Archive for Lee Van Cleef

Sabata resubmitted

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by dcairns

If you wanna get money / And if you wanna be rich / If you want a good life / You’ve gotta be a son of a – / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom…

The inanity of the title song of RETURN OF SABATA is hard to beat, and if you happen to be looking for a non-Leone comedy western with Lee Van Cleef, so is RETURN OF SABATA. It might even have the edge on the original. It is not an important film, I stress. But it’s rather jolly. Even Van Cleef seems determined to show he’s not just a cold-eyed stone-face.

Sabata! / Sabata! / The fastest gun in the west! / I said the fastest gun in the west! / Nine-fingered man! / Four-barrelled Derringer! / Sabata is the only invincible man in the countryside…

Yes, you see, Van Cleef was missing the tip of his right index finger, something Leone was very enthusiastic about. In this film, the finger is mentioned and has a backstory (something about Sabata chewing it off to get out of the Southern army). And at the end he shoots a semi-bad guy in the finger, so it’s a motif. And the trick Derringer with extra barrels hidden in the handle (impossible to aim, one would have thought, but Sabata can use it with amazing skill) is a Bondian gadget established in the first film and reintroduced in the opening scene here, a bloody shoot-out that turns out to be part of a traveling wild west show. So Sabata invented the blood capsule, if anyone asks you.

Later, he produces a miniature squeeze-gun, cupped in the hand and fired by clenching the fingers — and this turns out to have been a real weapon, though very uncommon.

Ignazio Spalla, AKA “Pedro Sanchez” returns too, but as a different character, just to keep things confusing.

(Say, we know that Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte are playing different characters in their two entries in the DOLLAR trilogy, but can we be sure Clint Eastwood is playing the same guy in all three? Sure, he has the poncho and cheroot in all three (though he only dons it neat the end of TGTBATU, but he has different names.)

Reiner Schöne is really entertaining, although he’s more of an out-and-out swine than the loveable scamp the movie seems to imagine him as. Similarly, both films in the series seem less sympathetic to the female characters then is warranted…

Both Sabata films are fairly boys-only, sexist affairs, with women as decorative murderees — they look forward to the gialli, in a way, with little moments of murder mystery amid the massacring, and director Gianfranco Parolini’s “circus western” atmosphere introduces some visual elements that would have fitted right in with later genre developments. Sabata acquires a kind of girlfriend, though he was sexless in the first film like a lot of spaghetti western heroes — “only interested in killing,” suggested Alex Cox, though money serves as a convenient universally-understood MacGuffin.

The weirdly asexual he-man mythos connects pretty directly to the peplum, where desire is expressed mainly through flexing and fighting — and Parolini was a veteran of that genre. It also goes back to Leone (FOR A FEW DOLLARS is an extended flirtation between two gunfighters), another graduate of the sword-and-sandal school, and I guess you can find some of its origins in YOJIMBO and SANJURO.

Van Cleef is by now more used to the idea of doing comedy, and his facial expressions get surprisingly varied. I didn’t want to see him camp it up TOO much — playing it straight is often a good policy in this kind of thing — but he manages to avoid embarrassing himself.

Sabatage

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2020 by dcairns

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.

 

John Phillip Law West of the Pecos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2019 by dcairns

DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Also dismounts, walks about, drinks whisky-and-water, smokes a pipe. Death leads an active, outdoorsy kind of life.

This movie is Pure Cinema — pure cinema is a pretty violent place, it sometimes seems. The spaghetti western version amps everything up to eleven and reduces the script to something that could be scrawled in a matchbook. The plot is mythic, the characters iconic, which is another way of saying childish, maybe.

The movie begins with a gang of outlaws performing what Slim Pickens in BLAZING SADDLES calls a “number six” — killing the men and raping the women. Then, since it’s important that we realize these are the bad guys, they shoot some bottles, some jugs and some assorted carrots and parsnips.

No, not the vegetables!

One of the rapists is called Burt Kavanaugh which seems a bit on the nose.

So, a nasty beginning, though it manages to avoid fetishising the sexual assault, and is brief to the point of implausibility. Beginning with this violent primal scene — witnessed by the youngest child — the movie establishes an almost giallo-like tone, before turning into an episodic revenge narrative Cornell Woolrich might have approved of. Sort of The Dude Wore Black.

There’s a loophole in the “number six,” you see — a small boy, not covered in the articles of war. He survives, and through the miracle of editing grows up to be John Phillip Law, next seen shooting some objects of his own. But he does his target practice in the open air, like a civilised person.

Next, we meet Lee Van Cleef, being freed from a chain gang to the tune of one of Ennio Morricone’s finest western scores, a kind of shitkicker Carmina Burana with a male chorus that seems to have been recorded in a bathroom, in a cavern. Words cannot express.

The lyrics are pretty indecipherable but seem to include neat-o phrases like “Wiiiiild Women of Woo-gow!” though I may be mondegreening a little.

Screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni also worked on defensible films like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (but Leone employed whole swing-gangs of writers on each film) but also on less dignified-sounding ones like MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY and MR. HERCULES AGAINST KARATE.

Some great fractured compositions in the obligatory musical duel, timed to three strikes of the piano keyboard. Director Giulio Petroni worked almost exclusively in this genre, and delivers striking set-pieces as well as possibly the best landscape stuff I’ve ever seen in an Italian western.

Van Cleef is his dependable bad-ass self. Law is pretty good — the character is meant to be more callow than Eastwood’s grizzled stranger, so his lack of authority isn’t a major problem. But if the film is slightly less than the sum of its excellent/ridiculous parts, it may be because the pretty and sunny young fellow at its centre does not compellingly suggest a vengeance-driven nemesis eaten up by Hate.

DEATH RIDES A HORSE stars Angel Eyes; Pygar; Father Pablo Ramirez: Dial M for Me; Capannelle: and Boogulroo.