DirectorGianfranco Parolini/Giuliano Carnimeo
Release Date(s)1968-1970 (July 3, 2018)
Studio(s)Paris Etolie Films/Parnass Film/Società Ambrosiana Cinematografica/Colt Produzioni Cinematografiche/Flora Film/Hispamer Films/Copercines, Cooperativa Cinematográfica/Devon Film (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B+
- Overall Grade: A
Long unavailable on home video, the Sartana films are another example of Italy’s burgeoning western success, along the same lines of Trinity, Ringo, Django, and what later became known as The Man With No Name films. Like the Django films, the Sartana series is mostly comprised of unofficial sequels. Whether the character was in them or not, the films still made money at the European box office (Italy, Spain, France, and Germany included). However, most connoisseurs are fully aware that there were really only five official Sartana films, which were released over a three year period. In a boxed set worthy of its name, The Complete Sartana finally gathers these films together in one place for the first time.
The series begins with If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death (aka Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte). The titular character strolls into town, ultimately playing his adversaries for fools with the ultimate goal of acquiring a hidden stash of gold, shooting his way through everybody to get to it. In I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (aka Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino), Sartana returns, this time seeking out the men who framed him for a bank heist, avoiding bounty hunters and other less than savory types along the way. In Sartana’s Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (aka C’è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara), he makes his way to a small ghost town overrun by bandits. One by one, he plays both them and the town’s inhabitants in pursuit of a bundle of gold, but another ace gunman named Sabbath has also arrived in town with an agenda of his own. In Have a Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay (aka Buon funerale, amigos!... paga Sartana), the luckiest and most prepared shooter alive turns up in yet another town full of corruption, headed up by the local sheriff and a banker who are trying to swindle a young woman out of what could potentially be valuable land, but not before Sartana has anything to say about it. Last but not least is Light the Fuse... Sartana is Coming (aka Una nuvola di polvere... un grido di morte... arriva Sartana), which is much of the same of what’s come before: various crooked outlaws, a stash of hidden gold, and Sartana being the only one smart enough to stay alive long enough to find it.
If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death certainly wears its influences on its sleeve. Sartana is definitely more Clint Eastwood than Franco Nero, or rather more Blondie than Django. Besides his look and his mannerisms, he’s also not really that good of a character. He’s selfish like everybody else, but his calm demeanor makes him cold and calculating, ever-patient in reaching his goal. On the other hand, the people he winds up throwing down against are much more sinister and quick to kill than he is, making him more of a reluctant protagonist. The film’s look also owes much to Leone’s Dollars trilogy, utilizing close-ups, quick zooms, and large, mostly unoccupied wide shots of various landscapes. However, it does seem to have its own personality. Sartana, at least in this film, isn’t really a thief with a heart of gold. He’ll kill if he has to, but he maintains his composure at all times, waiting for the eventual strike. It’s a fine beginning for the character who managed not to change much over the course of the five films.
However, in I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, he plays a slightly different character. He’s Eastwooding more than ever before, being less silent with a little more repartee in his repertoire. He still carries his four-barreled handgun with its hidden slot of extra bullets (a series staple), he’s still a ridiculously lucky man as he always walks away from a gunfight in one piece, and he’s still playing his adversaries like chess pieces in order to obtain a stash of loot. This second film is also a lot more playful and less dour than the first, even bringing back Klaus Kinski from the first film in a minor role as a schlubby, card-playing middle man who wants nothing more than to have better luck at gambling. Sartana is also a more infamous character this time around, well-known by everybody long before he comes into contact with them. His seemingly magical qualities, which includes his card tricks and his uncanny ability of avoiding gunfire and blowing everybody away in a crowded room in the process, makes this entry a little more lighthearted than downbeat. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In Sartana’s Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (by the way, the titles for these films are amazing), we have a new actor on hand portraying Sartana, in the form of George Hilton. As interesting as his portrayal of the character is, he doesn’t embody the same kind of screen presence that Gianna Garko does. The story itself is also a bit humdrum compared to what’s come before and there are a few too many characters that we’re meant to focus on, some of whom have very little narrative purpose and only serve to take our attention away from other matters. The film’s greatest strength is the character of Sabbath, played by Charles Southwood. He’s a breath of fresh air in a mostly mediocre story. The film also seems to lack any of the style seen in the previous films, that is until the halfway point. It’s almost as if a different director and editor came in to finish it. The placement of the camera and the shots themselves get more creative, not to mention that the speed of the cuts are more fine-tuned. It’s not a poor entry by any means, but it doesn’t work as well as the previous two.
In Have a Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay, Gianna Garko returns to the role, adding a mustache to his arsenal of cool. Although the plot itself is a little deeper than its surface-level synopsis would have you believe, it doesn’t offer much new outside of a potential love interest for Sartana. It’s a slight chink in his otherwise solid armor, but it never goes too far where he’s actually riding off into the sunset with his beloved or anything of that nature. I personally didn’t care for the English dubbed voice of Sartana in this one, which isn’t as deep as it usually is, giving him less gravitas and making him sound more nebbish. His Italian voice is a much better representation. The outcome is fairly straightforward: Sartana plays, tricks, and shoots a plethora of bad guys, all without a scratch on him. It’s amazing how poorly everybody fires their guns in these films outside of him. It’s a minor step down from the previous film, which even without Garko’s presence in it, was still a bit more entertaining by comparison.
Then there’s Light the Fuse... Sartana is Coming, the last official Sartana movie. The plot of Sartana searching for hidden gold has more than overstayed its welcome, but the difference between this and the other films is how unbelievable it gets at times. Sartana is a man who always gets the drop on everyone and always has been, but in this film, in more ridiculous and unrealistic ways. For example, he takes on an army with nothing more than an organ that’s been fitted for combat (perhaps taking a page from Django‘s machine gun-equipped coffin), dealing out bullets and explosions faster than the time it takes for any of these men coming at him to draw their guns, let alone shoot them. The twists in the plot also get a little tiresome as everybody seems to be out to double cross each other. Meanwhile, Sartana cleverly deduces where the gold is like he’s Sherlock Holmes. It’s an entry that has its ups and down, but it’s obvious that the series was definitely getting low on ideas at this point.
The Sartana films would continue on with many other entries, none of them considered canon, of course. Gianna Garko would even return to the role in some of those films, but the character was considerably different, being more of a hero than an antihero. Sadly, many of the Sartana films never saw theatrical distribution in the U.S., so American audiences never really got a chance to see them. Thankfully, they can now be viewed in all of their glory thanks to Arrow Video.
The Complete Sartana Blu-ray collection comes armed with new transfers for all of the films, all solid and beautifully organic. If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death is sourced from a 2K scan of a 35mm print. Normally, print-sourced transfers yield poor results, but this one seems to have been given quite the overhaul. Good textures are present despite fluctuations of grain. Black levels are deep, likely with some inherent crush, but shadow detail is impressive regardless. Colors are strong with wonderfully warm skin tones while overall brightness and contrast levels are excellent. It’s also quite stable with only the mildest of stutter in a few spots. The only real thing holding it back is some irreparable damage, which mostly inhabits the beginning and ending of the film. It ranges from scratches to speckling, and in one case, several frames of information in the center of the frame missing completely. However, the obvious amount of effort it took to make the film look as good as it does from this lower quality element is commendable.
By contrast, the other films are better-looking as they’re sourced from 2K restorations straight off of their original 35mm camera negatives. They’re gorgeous, to say the least. High amounts of fine detail, refined and solid levels of grain, and deep, inky blacks permeate these terrific presentations. Color reproduction is on par with the first film, including appropriately warm skin tones and perfect brightness and contrast levels. They’re also quite stable and clean with next to no visible damage leftover other than an occasional line running through the frame. The only real flaws that I noticed came towards the end of I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, where the picture quality of one scene dipped significantly for about a minute or two, but also during the opening and closing credits of Light the Fuse... Sartana is Coming. These particular shots look to have been sourced from prints, despite the restoration notes not mentioning them at all. Otherwise, everything looks crisp, colorful, and free of any overt or unnecessary digital manipulation or enhancements.
As for the audio, every film comes equipped with Italian and English mono DTS-HD tracks with optional subtitles in English for the Italian audio and English SDH for the English audio. Although sync is slightly loose in every film, perhaps a little more at certain times than others, it was never a problem for me. The Italian audio for If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death has been taken from a standard definition tape source, and due to its damage, selections from the English track had to be substituted in each affected area. It also has more obvious hiss and even sounds a tad thinner than its English counterpart, which is clearer and more precise, although the sound effects and the score are a tad boxy on both tracks. For I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, the Italian track is much fuller than its English counterpart, with particular regard to the music. It also has much more ambience and low level activity, despite its one-channel source. Score also has a little more bite to it as well, minor though it may be. On both tracks, dialogue is presented on about the same level of amplitude. For Sartana’s Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, there are no major differences between the Italian and English audio sonically. Dialogue, score, and sound effects all seem to be along the same levels with each other. The only minor difference is some mild hiss on the Italian track, whereas the English track is a little cleaner. For Have a Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay, both tracks are well-balanaced with some mild hiss. The differences between them are minor, such as some of the sound effects, ambient or otherwise, being more pronounced on the Italian track. There's also some mild distortion in a couple of spots on the English track. Otherwise, both are about the same. For Light the Fuse... Sartana is Coming, the English track is the narrowest of all of the presentations in this set. The Italian track is wider with much more presence when it comes to the dialogue. Both are clean and clear overall.
IF YOU MEET SARTANA... PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/B+/B+
I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B+/A-/B+
SARTANA'S HERE... TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/B+
HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C-/A-/B+
LIGHT THE FUSE... SARTANA IS COMING (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/A-/B-
Each film also comes with a set of extras. For If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death on Disc One, there’s an audio commentary by author and filmmaker Mike Siegel, who is less-screen specific than on most commentaries and more interested in the history of the series and the film itself; If You Meet Frank Kramer..., a new 22-minute interview with writer/director Gianfranco Parolini; Light the Fuse: Sartana’s Casting, a 17-minute visual essay guide to the many familiar faces in the Sartana series by Jonathan Bygraves; and a promotional gallery featuring 28 images of material from the Mike Siegel archive. For I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death on Disc Two, there’s a great audio commentary by authors and historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Peake; From the Life of a Stuntman, a new 24-minute interview with actor and stuntman Sal Borgese; Violent Tales for Kids, a new 19-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi; and a promotional gallery featuring 30 images of material from the Mike Siegel archive. Disc Three, which contains Sartana’s Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, there’s Sartana Shoots First, a new 20-minute interview with actor George Hilton; Lady Colt, a new 30-minute interview with actress Erika Blanc; A Very Good Job, a new 15-minute interview with actor and talent agent Tony Askin; and a promotional gallery featuring 22 images of material from the Mike Siegel archive. Sadly, there’s no audio commentary to accompany it.
Disc Four, which contains Have a Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay, features another great audio commentary by authors and historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Peake; The Man Who Came from the Circus, a new 23-minute interview with screenwriter and stuntman Roberto Dell’Acqua; and a promotional gallery featuring 21 images of material from the Mike Siegel archive. Last but not least is Disc Five, which contains Light the Fuse... Sartana is Coming. There’s no audio commentary here either, but in its place is The Mute Strikes Again, a new 22-minute interview with actor and stuntman Sal Borgese; Guiliano, Luciano and Me, a new 21-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi; Sartana Lives, a 25-minute archival featurette containing interviews with Gianna Garko and director Guiliano Carnimeo; and a promotional gallery featuring 20 images of material from the Mike Siegel archive. Also included in this package is a 58-page booklet with the essays “If You Meet Sartana…” by Robert Curti and “Westerns, Italian Style: Once in a Timeline” by Howard Hughes, as well as restoration details. All of this material is housed in a large, sturdy slipcase with separate slim cases for each disc, all with reversible artwork.
For those of us who have yet to experience these long sought after Italian westerns, The Complete Sartana collection is an absolute must-have for fans of the genre. It’s quite a handsome package with excellent transfers and extras, making it one of Arrow Video’s finest releases of the year. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons