if you meet sartana, pray for your death - gianni garko

An insurance fiddle on a strongbox of gold is initiated by a scheming cabal of town dignitaries in Gianfranco Parolini's 1968 angel of death film ... If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death. Into the breach steps the Sartana (Gianni Garko), the most stylish character ever to set foot in the usually grubby and sweat-drenched world of the Spaghetti Western. He takes it upon himself to serve justice upon the outlaws, Mexican bandits and corrupt officialdom, in the process walking away with a coffin-load of loot, as he influences events, turns up unexpectedly, or simply takes matters into his own hands with the silver Sharp's Derringer and Winchester rifle that play integral roles in his personal arsenal.

Ample death, ample destruction and muchos double-crossing quickly follow.

Sartana, to give it the more popular and less unwieldy title, brings together such heavyweights of the Spaghetti Western genre as Gianni Garko (Blood At Sundown,$10,000 Blood Money), William Berger (Sabata, Face to Face), Fernando Sancho (Seven Dollars on the Red, Pistol For Ringo) and Klaus Kinski (And God Said to Cain, For a Few Dollars More), in a tale of treachery and betrayal that does its damnedest not to tow the line of cohesion, frequently wading knee-deep in the murky waters of convolution.

Indeed, full concentration is required when watching Sartana, just to remain level with the game as twists, turns, multiple deaths and complete randomness are thrown into what is nonetheless a visually gorgeous example of Italian cinematic cuisine.

The character of Sartana carries shades of Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) from For A Few Dollars More in dress, nonchalance and the fact he carries around a musical pocket watch that has a destabilising effect on the principal villain of the piece, Lasky (William Berger). Incidentally, Parolini would go on to reinvent the character as Sabata, specifically for Van Cleef, in the enjoyable Sabata and its awful sequel Return of Sabata.

Sartana is far more enigmatic than Mortimer or Sabata though (one a bounty hunter, the other a gambler), seemingly possessing a supernatural adeptness for being in the right place at the right time. When a hastily drawn villain - whose sole purpose in the film is to provide bullet fodder for the titular anti-hero - comments, "You look just like a scarecrow" (possibly the best dressed scarecrow in cinematic history, mind), Sartana replies, "I am your pallbearer." He continues this allusion to all things death-related throughout, claiming to be a gravedigger, a "first-class pallbearer", and aligning himself with the local undertaker, Dusty. The suggestion being that Sartana might actually be the angel of death, walking the earth to bring about the demise of those in need of it, or perhaps even a restless ghost, wronged in life, avenging in death.

Or perhaps, as with everybody else in this film, he's simply after the gold.

Sartana would go on to appear in four more "official" sequels, three of which continued with Garko in the lead role and saw Parolini handing the directorial reins over to Guiliano Carmineo (Find a Place to Die, They Call Him Cemetery). The motives of the character remained ambiguous throughout. The film's success, as in the case of Django, led to scores of unofficial rip-offs and title change cash-ins.

... If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death, despite its labyrinthine wrangling, is a solid Spaghetti Western, even if it doesn't benefit from the dusty reassurance of some Almerian scenery. Personally, I prefer the first sequel in this series, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969), which is more of a reboot of the franchise under its new stewardship and features a returning Klaus Kinski, somewhat confusingly, in a different role.

Still, with a sumptuous shot composition, plus the silver Derringer, Lasky letting rip with the Gatling gun, and the final duel, Sartana has enough Spaghetti Western moments to keep fans of the genre more than happy.