|What hath Sergio Leone wrought? |
While he wasn't the first director to make what has come to be known as a "Spaghetti Western", Leone,over the course of four films (five if you count DUCK YOU SUCKER aka A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE (1972)), solidly cemented the elements of the genre into place. His four films, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), rank as not only some of the greatest westerns (Spaghetti or otherwise) ever made, they're also great films, period.
Spaghetti Westerns were made before, during and after Leone produced his masterworks but after Leone, everyone was following his lead. Even director Frank Kramer, (the English pseudonym for Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Parolini) who uses every trope in the Spaghetti Western playbook to good advantage in the low budget but marvelously entertaining ADIOS, SABATA (1970). It's the second entry in the Sabata trilogy. The first film, SABATA (1969) introduced the character as played by genre icon Lee Van Cleef. Van Cleef returned to the role for the third and final film, THE RETURN OF SABATA (1971). But in ADIOS, Sabata is played by Yul Brynner. Why not Van Cleef? He turned down the movie because he was already committed to appear in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE as gunfighter Chris Adams, the character Brynner made famous in the original THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960). How's that for irony?
Brynner does a good job here. Dressed entirely in black (as he was in MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and WESTWORLD (1973), except this time with a nifty leather fringe on his shirt) and sporting a wicked sawed off lever action rifle with a side-loaded cartridge, Sabata is not someone to be crossed. Set in Mexico and Texas in 1867, ADIOS deals with the corrupt and brutal rule of Emperor Maximilian I and his Austrian henchman Colonel Skimmel (Gerard Herter). A small band of revolutionaries plot to bring down Skimmel but they need to capture a wagonload of his gold in order to finance the revolution. Enter Sabata and his teammates, Escudo (Ignazio Spalla) and Ballantine (Dean Reed), a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-toothed con-artist who plays the middle against both ends. These mercenaries (and a few others) are hired by the revolutionaries to hijack the gold.
They set out on their mission and succeed rather quickly and easily. But that's only because they are the victims of the first of a series of crosses and double crosses that play out over the course of the film. It becomes a game of "gold, gold, who's got the gold?" as the men run a gauntlet of danger that includes Austrian soldiers, turncoat revolutionaries, vials of nitro, sticks of dynamite, throwing knives, bullwhips, Gatling guns and Sabata's widow maker of a rifle. The plot is a bit confusing at times and doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you think about it too hard. My advice is don't. Just go along for the ride and enjoy the action, gunfights and explosions, of which there are plenty.
Filmed in Spain with a largely Italian cast and crew and set in 1800s Texas and Mexico, ADIOS, SABATA is a fun, fast paced Spaghetti Western that delivers everything you expect from the genre. There's a good score (by Bruno Nicola) that sounds an awful lot like Ennio Morricone's work with whistling, chiming bells, guitar solos and "ah-ah-ah" choruses. And director Parolini knows the visual language of the genre. His camera is constantly pushing in, pulling out, and whip panning with many scenes abruptly smash cut into the next. And close-ups? There are several shots in which a single human face fills the entire screen. Hell, there are some shots in which a single human eye fills the screen.
ADIOS, SABATA isn't in the pantheon of Leone's classics but I've seen worse Spaghetti Westerns. It's definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of the genre. Thumbs up.