Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cloud Of Dust…Cry Of Death

In the wake of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone's enormous success with their trilogy of Italian westerns—A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY—actor Gianni Garko, a good-looking blond leading man with a steely resemblance to Eastwood, was hired to portray the mysterious gunfighter Sartana in 1968's IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH.

It was a hit, thanks partially to its gimmicky approach influenced by the James Bond movies (and possibly the U.S. TV series THE WILD WILD WEST). Sartana, of whom little about his background was ever revealed, reveled in the use of wild props, such as a four-barreled derringer and a hidden compartment in his boot heel that carried emergency gadgets. By 1971, the Sartana series was at full steam when Garko returned for his fifth movie (George Hilton had temporarily played the role in SARTANA IS HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN).

1971's LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING is a typically complicated Sartana story with some of the craziest gadgets of the entire series, most notably a deadly pipe organ that comes through for the hero during the climax and a tiny mechanical robot named Alfie that serves as a cigarette lighter, grenade launcher and more. Every western hero should have one.

Sartana, after shooting down a trio of corrupt lawmen, turns himself in to the corrupt warden of a nearby prison, where he is beaten and dumped into "the hole." There he encounters his old pal Granville (Piero Lulli), who promises him half of a $500,000 gold fortune if he helps Granville escape. They blast their way out, and Sartana heads to the town of Mansfield, where Granville is accused of murdering his business partner and hiding not only the gold, but also $2 million in counterfeit cash.

There's no shortage of suspects in Mansfield, including the (what else?) corrupt sheriff (Massimo Serato), the vicious General Monk (Jose Jaspe), the dead man's beautiful widow (Nieves Navarro) and a one-eyed scoundrel (ubiquitous white-haired Spanish character actor Frank Braña). When Santana isn't guarding his back from these treacherous opponents, he's shooting down dozens of minions who work for them, racking up a solid body count in the upper double digits. Aided by Bruno Nicolai's score and some unusual settings (such as a Turkish bath in this one-horse Old West town!), LIGHT THE FUSE… is a highly entertaining spaghetti western with enough action and oddball stunts to keep you smiling. While Garko never returned to play Sartana again, he did continue to appear in several European genre pictures and even guest-starred on the British TV series SPACE: 1999.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SARTANA IS HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN is probably the most badass title ever.