In 1967, Gianni Garko played a character named Sartana in the film Blood at Sundown. While not the hero we’ll come to know and love this week, this character proved incredibly popular, particularly in Germany. Producers contacted Garko about a new series with a hero with the same name, but he wanted to create a protagonist concerned more with himself than vengeance.
Original series director Gianfranco Parolini loved James Bond, so his gadgets were added. An additional inspiration was Mandrake the Magician, which explains Sartana’s black cloak and seemingly supernatural abilities.
Often, when confronting Sartana, villains will hear his theme, the song of a dead man, and answer the door to find just his clothes or nothing at all. Then, he’ll appear and kill them. He uses trick weapons, like his signature four-barrel derringer. And as time goes on, Sartana begins to employ elaborate death traps, ala Dr. Phibes. He even has a robot assistant in the final of these five films!
So why are we spending an entire week on the character? Because he’s so cool, that’s why! Who else would adjust his tie in the middle of a gunfight? I’ve been always wanting to enjoy more Italian westerns, as I love the fact that they take an American archetype and put their own spin on it. The Sartana series is a veritable goulash of genres and inspirations.
This week, we’ll be covering the four official Sartana movies and the fifth spiritual sequel:
If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Death: The first film in the saga.
I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death: Sartana is set up for an impossible bank robbery that he did not commit.
Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay: Sartana investigates the massacre of an entire town.
Light the Fuse…Sartana is Coming!: Millions of dollars in gold and counterfeit money lead everyone in a town to turn on one another, leaving Sartana and his improbable arsenal of weaponry in the middle.
I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin: Sartana takes on a Mexican gang of stagecoach robbers.
Sure, there are plenty of other films with Sartana in the title, but these are considered the official canon films. The final one on our list is actually the third released, but the last film. And George Hilton takes over for Garko, so many don’t consider it official.
All of these films owe a debt to Sergio Leone’s films, particularly A Fistful of Dollars. There were over six hundred Italian westerns made between 1960 and 1978, so the fact that this character endures — much less spawned plenty of imitators — will be explored this week. Plus, the films are just plain fun, with outrageous gun battles and numerous double-crosses. I can’t wait to share them with you.
PS – Arrow is releasing a huge box set of these soon — including limited edition blu-rays of all five official Sartana films! The Complete Sartana comes out on May 26 and you can get it from Diabolik DVD!