Thursday, October 27, 2005

THE SABATA TRILOGY

One might think from these reviews that I love horror films and lesbians. And one would be correct. But another of my favorite genres is the Spaghetti Western, that unique subgenre of European Cinema that arose in the Sixties and made a star of Clint Eastwood and replaced sword and sandal Hercules films as Italy's primary cinematic export for a decade or two.

Well, MGM has just released three fine examples of the genre in the handsomely packaged box set THE SABATA TRILOGY, which includes the films SABATA (1969), ADIOS, SABATA (1970) and RETURN OF SABATA (1971), and I couldn't be happier.

SABATA is a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek Western adventure starring the great Lee Van Cleef as a mysterious gunfighter with enough lethal gadgets to make James Bond jealous. The film is filled with eccentric characters (including a remarkable acrobat) and some fantastic action sequences. The plot is a throwaway – something to do with corrupt land barons and blackmail – that exists only to set up some exciting gunfights. It's a great example of the genre and a lot of fun.

ADIOS, SABATA clearly isn't about the same character, and not just because this time he's played by Yul Brynner – who always looked particularly cool in black (even in bell-bottom pants like the ones he wears here). But while it was shot under the title INDIO BLACK, it has the same director, producer, and a lot of the same supporting actors show up in different roles, so I can see why the U.S. distributor tried to pass it off as a sequel. This time, "Sabata" is helping Mexican revolutionaries steal Austrian gold, but it's the action sequences and Brynner's unique machismo that makes this worth watching.

Van Cleef returns (appropriately enough) in RETURN OF SABATA. Once again, "the man with the gunsight eyes" is up against another corrupt landowner who is robbing a small town blind. Returning director Gianfranco Parolini (credited on these flicks as "Frank Kramer") displays a light, breezy style and really knows how to use his camera. There are some very effective shots in all three of these films, and some surprisingly contemporary editing.

All three films – which have never before been released on home video in the U.S. – are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital mono sound. The picture quality on all the films is excellent and virtually free of dirt or damage – you wouldn't guess they were over thirty years old. The only extras on the discs are trailers and promos for other Western titles offered by MGM/Sony/Columbia.

These films are well worth watching, especially if all you know of the genre are Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's "Dollars" trilogy. While the Sabata films may not be as groundbreaking as Leone's films, they're damned entertaining adventure flicks, and are highly recommended.

BUY: The Sabata Trilogy (Sabata / Adios, Sabata / Return of Sabata)