An old Dutch master.

As a film, SABATA aka EHI AMICO… C’È SABATA. HAI CHIUSO! (1969) by Frank Kramer aka Gianfranco Parolini, may not be that special. but for me it was the answer to a forty-five year question that I had never troubled myself to ask.

(Sabata means “Saturday” so the original title is a pun — HEY FRIEND… IT’S SABATA/SATURDAY, YOU’RE CLOSED!)

The BBC used to show seasons of films — more a BBC2 thing — and as a kid I saw both Barboni’s Corbucci’s TRINITY films and Leone’s DOLLAR trilogy — and this. Only I never knew what film this was. But the question was hardly pressing, and in the age of the internet it probably wouldn’t have been hard to get the list of films shown back in the seventies, or to search for a spaghetti western featuring a drunken Civil war veteran (inexplicably dubbed with a pseudo-Mexican accent — or am I ignorant of some role played by Mexico in that conflict?) who’s continually cursing the uselessness of his medal for bravery. (Cue ironic pay-off when it proves useful after all.)

It’s fun, childish stuff, and Marcello Giombini’s Morricone rip-off score is catchy and likeable. MG also scored films under the pen-name Pluto Kennedy, which delights me strangely. Lee Van Cleef is Sabata and the character who lodged in my brain is played by one Ignazio Spalla, whose career was mostly confined to Italian oaters and was often billed as Pedro Sanchez, fooling no one.

I could do a piece proving that the spaghetti western gunman has as convoluted a history as that of the gentleman sleuth, but I’m not going to. I’ll only note that director Kramer’s middle film in the SABATA trilogy, ADIOS, SABATA aka INDIO BLACK, SAI CHE TI DICO: SEI UN GRAN FIGLIO DI… is actually about a character called Indio Black, or maybe Black Indio, played not as here by Lee Van Cleef but by Yul Brunner aka Yuli Borisovich Bryner. That must have made for a real sloppy dubbing job, since the lip movements required to say “Sabata” are in no wise similar to those that go into “Indio” or “Indio Black” or “Black Indio.” Another fake Sabata is Vittorio Richelmi in Spanish knock-off JUDAS… ¡TOMA TUS MONEDAS! aka WATCH OUT, GRINGO! SABATA WILL RETURN, where the character was originally called Texas (good luck dubbing that one, too)… then there’s Anthony Steffen in SABATA THE KILLER aka ARRIVA SABATA! which at least seems to have been conceived as a Sabata film, though made by other hands; Brad Harris in WANTED SABATA aka SABATA VIVO OU MORTO; Raf Baldassare in DIG YOUR GRAVE FRIEND… SABATA’S COMING aka ABRE TU FOSA AMIGO… ILEGA SABATA.Mind you, when you get into the DJANGO series, things get lunatic, with whole companies of lip-flapping C-listers dragooned in to fill Franco Nero’s capacious boots, and some entries being released as Sartana films or Django films in different territories, with different degrees of lip-flap. Still, the Hercules “series” makes even this chaos seem orderly.

The only “proper” SABATA sequel is È TORNATO SABATA… HAI CHIUSO UN’ALTRA VOLTA! (SABATA IS BACK… YOU’RE CLOSED AGAIN!) aka RETURN OF SABATA — same director and stars, and it’s also good childish, violent fun. I will address it more fully soon.

SABATA stars Angel Eyes; King Minos; Sergeant Garcia; Frank Bimble; King Lotar; Countess Grabowsky; and Lotte Krayendorf.


9 Responses to “Sabatage”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    Corrections needed here – and I’d strongly suggest you consult The Spaghetti Westerns Movie Database before any other explorations into this area. First, the Van Cleef character is called Sabata but this has really nothing to do with the da of the week, just another surname like SARTANA (that inspired a series of its own mostly featuring Gianni Garko). A more collogual interpreation would be “Here’s Sabata. close Everthing”. Sometimes, a literal translation does not work or has to be reworked as in that other Italian Western ” God does not allow killing on the Sabbah” or that Gerge Hilton western – THOSE DESERATE MEN WHO STIN OF SWEAT AND DEATH (retitled “Vengeane in Mine” in the UK

    Secondly, Corbucci had nothing to do with the “Trinity” series.Finally, may I recommend the new FB podcast ONCE UPON A TIME IN SPAGHETTI WESTERNS: THE PODCAST co-hosted by Tom Betts of Westerns’ all Italiana? Four episodes are already on youtube and they broadcast live 12.0 miday Pacific time so that European listeners can also be included and contribute by comments. Ten days ago, they had Robert Woods as guest and last Friday they were granted an extra 30 minutes to cover marginalized directors. All good enthusiasm and fun.

  2. Corrected the Barboni/Corbucci blunder, but the title of the film IS a play on its hero having a day of the week for a name, so I don’t know what there is to correct there. The sequel makes the same joke.

    Podcast sounds good, I’ll dip in!


  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Fassbinder was a big fan of “Adios Sabata”

  4. Having enjoyed Parolini’s two official Sabata films, I guess I should see it. They aren’t quite as cynical — or not as conscientiously cynical — as Leone’s films. Sabata is an honest crook who punishes the guilty and rides off with his reward money. But different rules may apply in Adios, which might tie in with RWF’s motto: “I look to the left, and I look to the right, and I fire in all directions.”

  5. As you know, the good the bad and the ugly takes place In 1862 during the Civil War in New Mexico during Sibley’s New Mexico campaign. He was trying to conquer New Mexico Arizona and Colorado for the confederacy.

    As for the role of Mexico during the Civil War, there are some books on the part the Rio Grande and the town of Brownsville played in fighting between the Yankees and the Jauristas on the one side versus the Confederates allied With the French and the Mexicans who fought under The emperor Maximilian


  6. Ah, OK, so it does make sense. In Sabata Returns, the title character is also set up as a Southern veteran, more Lost Cause romanticism although he seems to have chewed his own fingertip off to escape active service…

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Ah ha!, David C. Lee Van Cleef actually had this condition and did his WW2 service. It is not Donald’s “bone-spur”!

  8. Yeah, he could still pull a trigger.

  9. Tony Williams Says:

    And Zatoichi was blind, Wang Yu lost arms in ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN and ONE ARMED BOXER while Douglas Badwer lost both legs in REACH FOR THE SKY, to say noting about the resilient limbless knight in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Says nothing for Donald again.

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