Stranger With a Fast Draw: Van Cleef Heads Cast in 'Sabata'
"Sabata," which opened yesterday at the DeMille and neighborhood theaters, is a very long, hugely eventful, moderately bloody, immoderately inventive, generally good-humored Italian Western that succeeds in a lot of the areas that better, or at least more serious, movies tend to ignore. As heroic fiction, it is stronger on colorful success than on noble character, but it is so energetic and at the same time so tactful about its achievements that I find it impossible not to credit most of its ideas at face value—and sometimes a little more.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef) is a black-cloaked mysterious stranger, with looks of Judex and the manner of Fearless Fosdick, who foils a clever $100,000 bank robbery by the simple expedient of single-handedly shooting to death all seven robbers, and then blackmails their employers into paying him a like amount in hush money.
The employers ultimately pay the blackmail—both because they are ostensibly respectable men who in the first place only wanted the money so they could buy Texas with it, which they would then sell to the railroad; and because Sabata, against the usual overwhelming odds, eventually does them all in, and where they're going they won't need it.
Sabata is one of those rarities (even among mysterious strangers) who absolutely never make mistakes, never is surprised, and always win, usually by superior fire power, even when their enemies number an army. He is as-sisted (not that he needs it) by a Mexican ne'er-do-well (Pedro Sanchez) and an acrobatic Indian (Nick Jordan) whose leaps and somersaults wonderfully extend the meticulous agility that is central to Sabata's enterprise and to the film's style.
Style is really the substance of Sabata's chief adversary, Stengel (Franco Ressel, who has the appearance, but, alas, not the technique, of William Buckley.) Stengel lives, with countless henchmen, in an incredible ranch featuring a decor that ranges from late medieval to early rococo — all in one room. Since Stengel indulges in various effete cruelties and ornamental assassinations, experiencing him is rather as if you had scratched the dust of the desert and discovered, of the sins of the Borgias.
And style must be very nearly an article of faith with Frank Kramer (his real name is Gianfranco Parolini) whose graceful camera performs elegant arabesques above the simplicities of a plot for which he is also partially responsible. "Sabata" keeps throwing out almost gratuitous pleasures in movement and design—like the lovely Mario Bava adventure films—and for this enterprising prodigality Kramer deserves praise.
So do the cast members I have mentioned, and also one Gianni Rizzo, as the villainous Judge O'Hara, and William Berger, as a treacherous pal of Sabata who shoots with his banjo. Finally, credit is due to the plucky populace of the film's Daugherty City, Tex. No sooner are they all shot dead (at least once a reel), than they spring back to life for more action in the best traditions of show biz and the spirit of the Old West.
SABATA, directed by Frank Kramer; screenplay by Renato Izzo and Gianfranco Parolini; director of photography, Sandro Mancori; produced by Alberto Grimaldi; released by United Artists Corporation. At the DeMille, Seventh Avenue at 47th Street, and neighborhood theaters. Running time: l06 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Administration classifies this film "GP—all ages admitted, Parental guidance suggested.")
Sabata . . . . . Lee Van Cleef
Banjo . . . . . William Berger
Carrincha . . . . . Pedro Sanchez
Indio . . . . . Nick Jordan
Jane . . . . . Linda Veras
Stengal . . . . . Franco Ressel
Fergusson . . . . . Antonio Gradoli
Oswald . . . . . Robert Hundar
Judge O'Hara . . . . . Gianni Rizzo