Adios, Sabata (1970) – By Roger Carpenter

 

There are some who believe that if you see only a few films in a particular subgenre then you have essentially seen them all. Spaghetti westerns sometimes suffer from this viewpoint. But as real fans know, this is far from true. Of course you have the early Leone classics such as the Dollars Trilogy, which were not the first spaghetti westerns but were perhaps the most influential and which really established the foundation for the populist spaghetti western cycle. Later on these films became more politicized, critiquing Hollywood’s vision of Mexico and imperialism. Films such as A Bullet for the General, The Big Gundown, and Tepepa became known as Zapata westerns. There were more surreal films such as Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot! and more violent films which include Lucio Fulci’s forays into the spaghetti western like Massacre Time (AKA The Brute and the Beast) and Four of the Apocalypse as well as the controversially bloody original film of Django. There were even a string of comedic westerns, perhaps best represented by the two official Trinity films. Just as all of these films had a unique flavor to them, so does the official Sabata Trilogy, of which Adios, Sabata is the second release (don’t get confused because—similar to Django and Trinity, both of which spawned dozens of unofficial sequels that had nothing to do with the original films—Sabata, likewise has many unofficial sequels).

The Sabata films are unique amongst the pantheon of spaghetti westerns, themselves a mish-mash of creative ideas and concepts. Sabata is a gunslinger with an aura of cool like James Bond and a collection of gadgets to rival the spymaster himself. Not even close to being as bloody as many of the spaghetti westerns (this one is PG-13), the death scenes seem more akin to the 30’s and 40’s Hollywood westerns to anything coming out of Italy and Spain at the time. With a dash of humor mixed with some highly stylized panache, the Sabata films were perhaps some of the most original movies to come out of the classic spaghetti western cycle.

When the first Sabata surprised at the box office, the original film’s director, Gianfranco Parolini, was already deep into filming his next western, tentatively titled Indio Black and starring Yul Brynner. The production quickly decided to change this new character of Indio Black to Sabata, thereby creating an almost immediate sequel to cash in on the popularity of the original. In an interesting turn of events which could only happen in the world of cinema, Lee Van Cleef, who starred in the first Sabata, turned down the role of Indio Black because he was already involved in a sequel to The Magnificant Seven—ironically starring in the role Yul Brynner had made famous in the original film! This explains why Van Cleef plays Sabata in the first and third films while Brynner stars in the second.

In this episode of the series, Sabata is hired to steal a wagon-load of gold from the brutal Austrian, Colonel Skimmel (Gerard Herter), who rules the surrounding area of Mexico with brutal force. The gold will then be used to purchase guns for the Mexican revolutionaries in the fight against Colonel Skimmel and the Austrian Army. Along the way Sabata must keep a watchful eye out for the handsome rogue Ballantine (Dean Reed), who proclaims to be Sabata’s partner but would be just as happy if all the gold ended up with him.

The film opens with a highly stylized sequence that serves to remind viewers of Sabata’s gunslinging prowess as well as his penchant for slick gadgetry and super-cool personality. He manages to kill several attackers, gunning down one in a coffin made for Sabata himself before shooting the top closed on the corpse. An onlooker proclaims, “He nailed that coffin shut!” providing a dash of gallows humor and setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Adios, Sabata is frankly ridiculous. Sabata always has some kind of special gun or other trickery perfectly tailored to the situation in which he finds himself, including guns with extra shots in the pistol-grip. This allows him to surprise his enemies with a flick of his wrist and provides some extra defense when the regular six shots of his pistol are spent. He also displays a near-psychic ability to predict a situation or recognize a trap under every single circumstance, elevating him to near-Godlike status. And he always manages to show up at just the right moment, usually in a cool, masculine stance, black shirt unbuttoned nearly to his navel. But this level of ridiculousness is also really fun in a very cheesy way. The film was clearly intended as a Yul Brynner vehicle and Brynner is in fine form for the show, flexing and glaring like a gladiator even if his acting isn’t on par with many of his other roles (this could be due to some shoddy dubbing more so than to Brynner himself).

The outrageous characters are amplified by the group of Mexican revolutionaries allied with Sabata, including one who carries lead balls and flicks them using his foot by way of a special shoe. These balls are accurate and deadly, even from great distances. Coupled with a dancing Mexican whose stoppage of the dance indicates the time for an execution, this makes nearly every character in the film larger than life.

Dean Reed as Ballentine is likeable as the scheming and mischievous yet cowardly sidekick who inevitably gets caught by Sabata, his only defense a shrug of the shoulders and a great, big smile meant to woo the ladies. Gerard Herter plays Colonel Skimmel with a delicious evil as he sets up traitors to be shot by his all-too-real model ship, complete with working cannon, and practices his marksmanship in The Most Dangerous Game-fashion of releasing Mexican peasants who try to run the gauntlet before being shot dead by Skimmel from his balcony (shades of the actual Amon Goeth, WWII concentration camp commandant who was infamous for shooting Jewish prisoners from his balcony just for fun).

Lest any readers think I’m criticizing the film for its outlandish set-pieces, let me assure you I am not. It’s all in good fun, with actual sex, violence, and language kept to a minimum for the younger audience. This is no different than the James Bond film series, and is a precursor to other cinematic heroes with names like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Statham (though many of their films are decidedly more violent and profanity-laced).

It’s no spoiler to say that Sabata eventually comes out the winner—even the most unsophisticated viewer should know this after the opening gunfight. The end result is never in doubt, with the mystery and driving force simply being how Sabata will win the endgame. It’s all childish, nutty fun, and pretty entertaining to boot.

This Blu-Ray presentation from Kino-Lorber is absolutely gorgeous, with eye-popping color and crystal clarity. It’s a bare-bones release with only an English-dubbed version, no subtitles, and a handful of trailers as the only feature (including all three Sabata trailers), but the real prize is the beauty of the film itself. So if you think all spaghetti westerns are simply retreads of Leone’s seminal trilogy, give Sabata a chance. I think he will convince you otherwise.

You may order the film from Amazon or through Kino-Lorber at www.kinolorber.com.