Monday, June 17, 2019

Who Knows What Gold Lurks in the Coffins of Men?

A faint sound of mechanical music, maybe a shadow on the wall, that's all the warning you'll get and If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. Or so says the title of the 1968 Spaghetti Western that introduced the popular character to audiences. Definitely closer to a superhero film than most of the best films of the genre, the first Sartana movie is like a wilder adaptation of Yojimbo than A Fistful of Dollars with The Shadow as a protagonist.

Sartana (Gianni Garko) may be more supernatural than The Shadow, though. The film begins with the first of a few instances where it clearly looks like the man in black and red is shot and killed--only to inexplicably calmly walk back into frame and gun everyone down.

But he misses Klaus Kinski, who's set up with a rifle on the hill. Kinski plays a character called Morgan and his role is small enough he's credited as making "a special appearance". He doesn't have much dialogue, allowing Kinski to play without the inevitable dubbing, and his mysterious gunman character wears a bell on one of his spurs. This ominous sound that somehow effectively communicates his prowess is overshadowed when Sartana starts using a music-playing pocket watch he took off a dead man to announce his presence.

Sometimes a guy will hear the pocket watch and look around wildly for Sartana and never see him at all. It's just a reminder that Sartana is watching, that Sartana knows, somewhere in the shadows of bright desert sun reflecting off brilliant white sand.

What does Sartana want? He says he wants gold, and that sort of seems to be the general trend of his activities as he foils bandits and a Mexican militia headed by Fernando Sancho from the Ringo movies. But it doesn't explain Sartana's sadistic psychological games, his theatricality, his tiny mechanical gun, and above all his apparent invulnerability.

The ambiguity works, though, and I found myself smiling along with him when his complicated plan involving a rope trap in a prostitute's room proves effective, or when he ominously tells a story to be overheard by Morgan and Lasky (William Berger) in a barber shop. He also likes to gamble but there's never any hint of a possibility that he could lose at it.

It's a decadent pleasure, far from the more beautiful or challenging films of the genre, but by no means bad. If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death is available on Amazon Prime.

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