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DVD Review: Adios, Sabata

Adios Sabata

Director Gianfranco Parolini’s 1969 spaghetti western, “Sabata,” was a surprise hit.  So much, in fact, that this film, wasn’t even going to be a Sabata story.  However, once the box office receipts came in, “Indio Black,” was re-named, “Adios Sabata.”  Unfortunately, the movie plays as convoluted as the story that happened behind-the-scenes.

In “Adios Sabata,” Yul Brenner takes over the title role from Lee Van Cleef.  In the opening sequences, things seem like they haven’t changed that much from the first film.  The name ‘Sabata,’ (a freelance gunman who seems to say very little,) still inspires hushed reverence.  And, at least in the beginning, the convoluted ways of killing people stays the same.  (In the original, the best gun was one that didn’t look like a gun and a great deal of the humor and charm of the movie came from this inventive and silly look at the west was the selling point.)  However here, once Sabata leaves his carefully rigged barn, things turn a little too serious for something with the ‘Sabata’ brand-name.  I wondered how Sabata knew exactly how those breaking into his barn would step where they would step… His elaborate traps are sometimes a little too elaborate.

Emperor Maximillian I of Austria is in charge in Mexico and he rules with an iron fist.  In an early scene, he promises prisoners freedom if they can reach the gate and evade his marksmanship.  He has sent a wagon full of gold on a journey and Sabata has been hired to knock it over.  Of course, he does this, but then there are a few twists and turns and, then the big showdown.  (If he simply stole the gold, the movie would have been over in 45 minutes.)

What is disappointing about “Adios Sabata,” is the title role.  In the first film, Lee Van Cleef brought a great and interesting angle to the character.  He was quiet and deadly and, seemed at home in the crazy universe.  In the follow-up, Brenner’s Sabata wears a black leather jumpsuit complete with bell-bottom and a lot of buckskin fringe.  I mean a lot of fringe.  Also Brenner, who was so great in “The Magnificent Seven,” and “Westworld,” in similar roles, just doesn’t seem to click here.  Instead of seeming scary and quiet, he seems just not to fit in with everyone else.  In the original, everyone was crazy.  It was a world where a skin-tight, black leather jumpsuit with bell-bottoms and buckskin fringe would seem right at home.  Here, it stands out, and not in a good way.

I hate to keep comparing the two movies and the fact that all I can say is, “well, in the original ‘Sabata,’ movie…”  I’m sorry to keep harping on it.  However, I think the original, (also directed and co-written by Parolini,) just seems so right.  And this just seems so wrong.

I haven’t seen the third movie in the trilogy, “Return of Sabata,” where Van Cleef reprised the character, but, I don’t think he could do worse than Brenner.  While I sometimes grow frustrated that some great European movies of the past are difficult to find in the US, finally seeing a movie like “Adios, Sabata,” makes me wonder if the effort is worth it.  In the end, “Adios,” is the movie you have to sit through to find something great.  Keep on looking.  -Sam

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