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Gianfranco Parolini’s Sabata was released towards the end of the spaghetti western cycle, in 1969, just as the genre was being supplanted by poliziotteschi (aka: Eurocrime) and gialli. As such, it needed to contend with the comedic sensibilities of Enzo Barboni’s Trinity series ( They Call Me Trinity [Italian: Lo chiamavano Trinità…, 1970] and Trinity is Still My Name [Italian: ...continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità, 1971]) and did this by establishing a gimmick – the title character’s wacky array of weaponry and superhuman shooting skills. These and Sabata’s other defining traits were patched together from two established spaghetti heroes. The first was Gianni Garko’s Sartana, who first appeared in Alberto Cardone Blood at Sundown (Italian: Mille dollari sul nero, 1967), before fronting five “official” canon movies (as well as countless in-name-only rip-offs), beginning with If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (Italian: Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte; aka: simply Sartana, 1968), directed by none other than Gianfranco Parolini (all of the sequels were directed by Giuliano Carnimeo). The second and the original king of specialized weapons (as far as spaghetti western audiences were concerned), was Colonel Douglas Mortimer of Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965). Mortimer was actor Lee Van Cleef’s entry point to late-in-life super-stardom and, in a way, the character he continued to portray throughout his career in Italy (with obvious expections). Sure enough, he was the man Parolini hired when it came time to bring Sabata to the screen. The film was a hit – according to Howard Hughes’ Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns (pub: 2006), it significantly outgrossed Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da uomo a uomo), a superior Van Cleef western released the same year – and, soon enough, Sabata was on his way to a Sartana-style franchise.

Sabata Double-Feature

Adiós, Sabata

(1970)
Under the brutal rule of local garrison leader Colonel Skimmel and European tyranny, a group of Mexican revolutionaries hire gunslinger Sabata (Yul Brynner) to rob a transport of Austrian gold in order to buy weapons. Colonel Skimmel has other plans – taking the gold for himself and blaming the revolutionaries – but no scheming colonel is going to keep Sabata from earning his pay. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

When it came time for Parolini to make another Sabata movie, Adiós, Sabata in 1970, Van Cleef was unavailable. Due in part to his newfound fame in Italian westerns, he had committed to replace Yul Brynner as the character Chris Adams in George McCowan’s The Magnificent Seven Ride – the fourth and final film in the original Magnificent Seven series. This story then morphed into one of the greatest behind-the-scenes trivia nugget ever when none other than Yul Brynner himself replaced Van Cleef as Sabata. The role flip is slightly less incredible when one considers that Brynner’s character was not actually named Sabata, but Indio Black in the original Italian release – the Italian title is Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, which apparently translates to Indio Black, you know what I'm going to tell you, you're a big son of a..... Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that it was marketed as a Sabata sequel in just about every other territory and that Van Cleef had been offered the role in the first place.

It’s easy enough to pretend that Brynner is playing the same guy Van Cleef was in the first film, especially considering the relatively generic character traits and fact that both actors are dripping in swagger. On the other hand, Brynner can’t help but be a bit of a diva, especially given the fabulousness of his all-black costume with its open shirt, skintight jeans, and tassels dangling from his arms and legs. Indio Black doesn’t have quite the arsenal of his Van Cleef counterpart, but his ‘harmonica’ side-loading style of rifle is pretty outlandish and he is teamed with a dancing acrobat and a guy who loads his shoes with large steel balls, then kicks them at his enemies at a deadly speed (he’s played by spaghetti standby Sal Borgese, who met Sartana the same year in Carnimeo’s Light the Fuse...Sartana is Coming). Generally speaking, the screenplay is route and familiar. Parolini and co-writer Renato Izzo blatantly lift a number of set-pieces from other films, such as the sequence where the lead antagonist is dares political prisoners to run for their freedom as he unfairly picks them off from a distance – as seen in Buzz Kulik’s Villa Rides (also starring Brynner, 1968) and Ferdinando Baldi’s Hate Thy Neighbor (1968), to name a couple. Still, the action is effective (if not particularly bloody) and the story is framed by an interesting and underused historical context – the reign of Maximilian the First (an Austrian monarch that was declared Emperor of Mexico) and the early days of the French/Austrian war with Benito Juárez’ forces. Adiós, Sabata isn’t as politically-minded as Damiano Damiani and Sergio Sollima’s Zapata westerns, but it does lend itself to a leftwing interpretation, considering that Sabata/Indio helps topple the empire and fund the revolution.

Adiós, Sabata was released on stateside DVD via Columbia Tristar/MGM as both a standalone disc and as part of a special Sabata Trilogy boxset. Both releases are, I believe, still in print. It’s Blu-ray debut came from Alive Entertainment in Germany. Kino Lorber’s 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray likely uses the same HD transfer, which was supplied to the company directly from Columbia/MGM (as have most of their releases). The results are typical of a US-born spaghetti western scan. It’s on the softer side in terms of texture and detail, but there are no major issues with telecine noise, as seen in countless Italian-born scans. The print is in good shape, too, aside from small white flecks, a few scratches, and a warped frame or two (the artefacts that accompany the opening titles were probably the result of compositing issues and not a sudden drop in quality). The occasionally inconsistencies in clarity can also probably be blamed on the film’s quick turnaround and the cheaper equipment cinematographer Sandro Mancori used. The footage could certainly be improved with a 2K or 4K makeover, though. The fatness of some of the grain implies that there is considerably more detail to be juiced from the frame. The slightly foggy contrast levels are a little disappointing as well, even though colour quality is still relatively rich and about as eclectic as a largely neutral and dusty palette can be.

Kino has included the original mono English dub in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. As per usual, the film was shot without sound and dubbed for international release, so there is no definitive ‘original language track.’ It would be nice to have the Italian dub option, I suppose, but the majority of the cast (including, of course, Brynner) are speaking English on set (though not everyone is dubbing themselves). The sound quality is on the better side of average, in that it is understandably flat, but not too distorted or fuzzy. Composer Bruno Nicolai, who often worked alongside Ennio Morricone as co-composer and conductor, delivers a very Morricone-esque score, complete with marching guitar lines and whistled melodies.

The only extras are a trailer and trailers for other Kino releases.

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature


Sabata Double-Feature

Return of Sabata

(1971)
The enigmatic sharpshooter finds himself in the role of victim in the years following the Civil War, when a shifty band of desperadoes bilks him out of $5,000. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

Van Cleef returned for Parolini’s third Sabata film, though it was technically only the second movie in the series. At least according to Italian and UK markets. Thematically, Return of Sabata is the clear follow-up to the original film, though, with the increase in slapstick and the title character developing near-supernatural powers between movies, it’s evident that the filmmakers were trying to revamp Sabata for the Trinity era. His arsenal is expanded (he even has a small gun under his boot), his skills are honed, and his cohorts are just as strange as ever (including two more acrobats – one of which attacks using a large slingshot he mounts between his legs – and Ignazio Spalla in another charming chubby clown role). Despite its incredibly negative reputation (worthless, conservative cultural critics Michael & Harry Medved named it one of the 50 worst films of all time for some unknowable reason) and its adherence to the structural formula, Return of Sabata is a worthy entry in the series. It’s biggest problem is actually that the pre-title sequence implies it might be an even more insane, Mario-Bava-meets-Federico-Fellini Gothic horror western. The weird, hyper-colourful opening is a gag, unfortunately, and designed around the punchline reveal that Sabata is working as a showman in a circus. Still, this sole official sequel is a enjoyably goofy escalation of the original film’s gimmicks, mixed with a sort of James Bond-esque storytelling that isn’t often applied to the western genre. In this context, Sabata is the franchise’s Dr. No and Return of Sabata is its Moonraker.

Return of Sabata was also released on solo and box-set DVD via Columbia/MGM (it also still appears to be in print). In addition, it debt on Blu-ray in Germany, though it was via Explosive Media, which I believe is sort of the same company as Alive or perhaps an imprint. Anyway, Kino’s 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray was likely sourced from the same Columbia/MGM scan and is a slight improvement over Adiós, Sabata, in large part due to Mancori’s use of vivid colour and strong shadows. Wide-angle details can still appear pretty fuzzy and some of the brighter colours bleed a tad, but the tighter separation ensures sharper close-up textures, slightly more natural grain (though still somewhat mushy), and cleaner gradations. The differentiation between dark shades is more dynamic as well. For the most part, artefacts are minimal, but there are three lightened dots that stick on-screen from about the 30-minute mark throughout the rest of the movie. The negative must’ve been pockmarked or water damage. Again, there’s plenty of room for improvement, assuming that some boutique label decides to do a full remaster in the future.

Return of Sabata is presented in its original English mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. Again, for those that didn’t read the previous entry (or any of my reviews of Italian genre films), the movie was shot without sound and all of its language tracks are dubbed. As in the case of Adiós, Sabata, most of the lead cast is speaking English, anyway, and many of them, including Van Cleef, is dubbing themselves. The sound quality is relatively clean with no notable fuzz, consistent dialogue volume, and tidily-mixed sound effects.  Original Sabata composer Marcello Giombini returned for the third (or second, whichever you prefer) entry and opted to skip the Morricone style for a sort of hip ‘n jazzy rock score. The music exhibits greater depth than expected from a B-western mono track. You’ll probably be singing the silly cha-cha title theme to yourself for months.

Again, the only extras are a trailer and trailers for other Kino releases.

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

 Sabata Double-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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