Tuesday, July 8, 2014

DVD Review by Lee Broughton

Sartana Rides Twice double bill.  Wild East, USA.  Format: NTSC Region 0.
‘Sartana’s Here … Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin'  Directed by Giuliano Carmineo.  Widescreen (2.35:1 anamorphic).  1970.  92 minutes.
Sartana (George Hilton) smells a rat when he observes a gang of Mexicans holding up a gold shipment: after killing the guards the Mexicans attempt to destroy the “gold" with dynamite.  Sartana deals with the Mexicans before heading for the nearby town of Appaloosa, where he discovers that Mr Spencer’s (Piero Lulli) mining company is being targeted by bandits who have insider knowledge.  Sartana offers to ride shotgun on the next gold shipment but a number of complications quickly arise: the Mexican bandit Mantas (Nello Pazzafini) swears to kill Sartana when he discovers that his men are dead and a mysterious gunman, Sabbath (Charles Southwood), breezes into town with mischief on his mind.  In addition, the local saloon madam, Trixie (Erika Blanc), appears to be up to something too.
Although this is classed as a ‘Sartana' film, George Hilton (in the interview included here as an extra feature) asserts that his Sartana character is quite different to the one regularly played by Gianni Garko.  He’s probably right to point this out but there are quite a few similarities to note all the same: the characters’ love of gold, their snazzy outfits, their use of Derringer-like small guns and their fondness for using spy show-like gadgets.  Of the gadgets used by Hilton’s Sartana, be sure to watch out for the pocket watch that doubles up as a combination lock cracker.  Similarly, the film’s storyline is as convoluted and as full of surprises as those that are normally associated with Garko’s ‘Sartana' films: the people and situations encountered here are rarely what they appear to be at first glance.  There are fun references to a number of Sergio Leone’s Westerns scattered throughout the film too.
While the show’s director Giuliano Carmineo did have a legitimate claim to the Sartana character and series, Hilton is perhaps right to flag up the sense of difference that he perceives here.  Because, in some ways, the content of 'Sartana’s Here…' feels like it is closer in spirit to Carmineo’s more over the top genre entries with Hilton, such as 'Return of Halleluja' and 'A Man Called Invincible'.  Charles Southwood’s dressed-in-white, parasol toting and poetry spouting Sabbath is indicative of Carmineo’s increasingly eccentric take on the genre but - as ever - it all amounts to a whole lot of tongue-in-cheek fun.  Indeed, for all of its quirks, this remains a good quality Spaghetti Western.  As with most of Carmineo's Spaghetti Westerns, the show has excellent production values and it boasts some pleasingly stylish and flashily executed cinematography.  And the film’s art direction is great, featuring some top notch costumes and good-looking set designs.  Francesco De Masi’s soundtrack score gets the job done but it’s not his best work.
Picture and sound quality here are both near enough excellent.  Presumably in order to present the film uncut, a couple of lines of dialogue in one scene are presented in Italian with English subtitles. 
Extras: George Hilton interview (16 minutes), three trailers and an image gallery. 

'Django Against Sartana'  Directed by Pasquale Squitieri.  Widescreen (1.85:1 anamorphic).  1970. 89 minutes.
A local bank boss, Mr Singer (Bernard Farber), notices Sartana (George Ardisson) ride into town.  He immediately sends an employee, Django's brother Steve (John Alvar), over to the gunman’s hotel room with a bribe that is supposedly intended to get him to leave town without robbing the bank.  Sartana sends Steve packing and promptly leaves town anyway.  When Singer is subsequently “killed", his niece kidnapped and the bank emptied of its contents, Steve and Sartana get the blame and Steve is lynched by some angry townsfolk.  Django (Tony Kendall) returns home from cleaning up the locality and when he discovers what has happened to Steve he swears vengeance against Sartana.
This is a low budget but strangely charming show that possesses some interesting elements.  First and foremost, Piero Umiliani's soundtrack score is superb.  The film’s title song is one of the best ever to feature in a Spaghetti Western and a number of Umiliani’s other - at times quite eccentric - music cues really work to enhance Squitieri’s equally eccentric (and sometimes simply impoverished looking) visuals.  One fine example is the sequence where Django catches up with Sartana.  Wild trumpets, that sound like they were the inspiration behind the crazy trumpet blasts heard towards the end of The Teardrop Explodes’ neo-psychedelic smash ‘Reward’, dominate the soundtrack while Sartana and Django face off against each other.  They have a kind of horseback joust using rifles which results in them both falling headlong into a sandy quarry.  Subsequent shots in this sequence intermittently show the pair standing in a grassy area while others return them to the sandy quarry.  It’s as if the confrontation is taking place in two different locations simultaneously, which creates quite a trippy effect. 
A similarly trippy sequence can be found at the show’s finale.  Sartana shoots a gigantic set of ornamental stag’s antlers off of a wall and they come to rest on Singer’s shoulders.  Sartana then proceeds to shoot Singer’s feet from under him while forcing him to hobble down a flight of steep stone steps with the stag’s antlers still in place.  As he reaches the bottom of the steps, Singer spots Django waiting for him.  The twisted villain mouths “I’ll get you yet, you filthy...” as he drags himself through dirt and straw in an effort to make his way towards the gun that Sartana has just shot out of his hand.  On the soundtrack an urgent, choral voiced and slightly Morricone-esque, variant of the film’s title song adds layer upon layer of intense emotion to the scene.  Loaded with false endings - and making use of some quite effective freeze frames and flashback footage - the film’s finale is pretty off-the-wall but it somehow works splendidly.  Alas, to get to the finale, you’ll have to sit through some equally odd but less impressive bits of business, including Jose Torres’ bizarre turn as Django’s assistant: a mute, machete wielding
Mexican called Loco.  
The picture and sound quality of ‘Django Against Sartana’ isn’t quite as good as that of ‘Sartana’s Here…’  However, given this show’s relative obscurity and small budget, this presentation remains good for the most part.
Extras: trailer and an image gallery.
© 2014 copyright Lee Broughton.               

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