I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969)

Sartana the Gravedigger / Sono Sartana, il Vostro Becchino

Gianni Garko as Sartana

 

I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death is the second in the popular Sartana series. Director Giuliano Carnimeo took over the directing reigns from Gianfranco Parolini, and Gianni Garko returns as the titular Sartana. The film opens up with a bank robbery, and apparently, Sartana is one of the bank robbers. It's a set-up, and the plot basically revolves around Sartana trying to find out who set him up. The task is not easy, as he has a slew of bounty hunters after him. Fortunately, he also has his old pal, Buddy Ben (Frank Wolff) to help him out.

As Len Liu pointed out in his Len Liu's Beginner's Guide To The Official Sartana Movies, "The plot of this particular film is very confusing, even more convoluted than usual. Even after repeated viewings, there are some aspects of the story that I don't quite get. Its one of the reasons why I consider this particular installment to be the weakest of the series, albeit only by a slight margin." Although I haven't seen all of the official Sartana movies as of this writing, I'm inclined to agree with him on the confusing aspect of the film. Yes, we get the basic gist that Sartana's been framed, and then in the end he finds out who did it, but it's not exactly easy to understand or follow.

That said, I still found it somewhat entertaining, although not without some flaws. Sartana, in a few ways, is kind of like a Spaghetti James Bond (something, according to Len, that would become more prominent throughout the series). Sartana in this is not so much a James Bond, more so an incredibly clever master of deception - there's a great scene that made me smile, where Sartana disguises himself to a sniper - as a coat rack. And of course, his masterful playing card acrobatics serve as a great distraction to his rivals. And in this case, also offer up a fantastic blooper of sorts...

I looked around, and I'm surprised to see that nobody's mentioned this before...the hands doing the card tricks are obviously a woman's hands.I first noticed it in the opening credit sequence. Remember, we never see Garko's face in the same screen as the card tricks are going on. You'd think that the filmmakers would at least have thought enough to have the woman cut her nails, but apparently couldn't be bothered with that little detail. It's actually kind of creepy.

As to the cast, Frank Wolff is good. I always find his roles as a good guy much more convincing than when he plays a baddie. Perhaps there's something in his demeanor that is just too good-natured to see as a credible bad guy. He doesn't get a lot of screen time, nor does he ever hog the limelight from Sartana. Klaus Kinski and Gordon Mitchell are both wasted. Kinski plays a compulsive gambler who decides to try to hunt down Sartana for the bounty. However, he's hardly in it, and when he finally catches up to Sartana, it's kind of anti-climactic and he's gone before you know it. It's almost one of those "let's get Kinski in this thing somehow" kind of things. It's the same with Gordon Mitchell, who also plays a bounty hunter. He gets little screen time, and he's out of the picture almost as quickly as he's in it. Neither character seems pivotal or even necessary, for that matter. Usually in these films, the bounty hunter after the hero is given good screen time, as well as adds a substantial amount of tension and conflict to the plot. Kinski's and Mitchell's characters don't really do this. They add some marqee value, but little else.

What makes the film watchable, more than anything else, is Garko. The guy's got some serious screen presence, and often like Giuliano Gemma, can make a mediocre film very watchable. He's a great actor, and is always a thrill to watch.

The Sartana films are essential watching for genre fans. They don't always hit the mark, and from an artistic perspective, usually fall pretty short, but as far as well-put together spaghetti filmmaking, they succeed to varying degrees. Although not a great film, it's still worth a watch, both for Garko and genre historical significance.

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