If You Meet Sartana... Pray For Your Death

Director: Frank Kramer                         
John Garko, William Berger, Sidney Chaplin

Many moviegoers see ass kicking just at its face value, never realizing that there is a fine art to the cinematic portrayal of it. To be certain, there is a lot to be said about the method and intensity of ass kicking in a movie; it certainly contributes most of all to the judgment of the amount of merit a movie deserves when it comes to kicking ass. Looking closer, however, there are two small but vital categories in a movie that together can make a vital difference when it comes to judging the ass kicking. These come with the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) of a movie. More specifically, how cool are the protagonists when it comes to kicking ass, and how loathsome are the villains, so when their asses are kicked we get an amount of satisfaction parallel to their despicable factor? Very important things to consider when making a movie, and it seems the people behind If You Meet Sartana... Pray For Your Death deeply thought about them, for quite simply this movie kicks so much butt it easily makes up for some flaws that might ordinarily sink another movie.

Let's start with the hero, whose design was obviously influenced by The Man With No Name that Clint Eastwood played. Like that other character, he has a few days growth of beard. He also uses a piece of metal in a similar way Eastwood did in A Fistful Of Dollars, finds a musical pocket watch that might be the same one from For A Few Dollars More, and he gets into a final shoot-out that has editing very similar to the final shutout in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Those are just some of a number of elements this movie rips off from Sergio Leone's movies. You can reject them outright, or you can go with the flow and just enjoy seeing them again, as I did. As derivative as the movie gets at times, these familiar elements are either fun by themselves to see again, or amusing in how the movie manages to cram them in.

And the movie does at least throw in some original twists so its hero isn't like Eastwood's character. Sartana is dressed up in a dusty suit and tie, visually making himself different. His character is mostly silent, but he actually shows a bit more emotion when he does talk, smiling and even laughing a few times. He also has good chemistry with the town's coffin maker (I know - shades of A Fistful Of Dollars). Most importantly, he manages to outcool Eastwood. Take the opening scene in the middle of the desert, where some outlaws think they have shot and killed him. He silently stands up behind them, strikes a great pose with his rifle slung over his shoulder, and utters, "I am.... your pallbearer...." Then he cuts down the gang with not only his rife, but with a four chambered gun that resembles one of those guns femme fatales pull out of their purses, but looking cooler and somehow managing to contain more force. This is just the beginning of the incredible body count he personally piles up in the movie. He doesn't just shoot his victims, but he knows a  number of different ways to kill, such as knife throwing, toppling coffins on someone, or a real ingenious trick involving a rope and a chair. Sartana certainly shows that killing someone doesn't have to be boring.

Speaking of killing, there is so much killing in this movie (not just by Sartana) that it becomes almost comical. Just look at what happens after the opening credits: On the stagecoach to Greenhill, we are introduced to Pastor Logan, Maggie Saint, Roy Hughes, and a fourth man who is asleep. So the movie is going to concern these characters? Not quite; when the stagecoach is attacked by bandit leader El Moreno and his band of outlaws, Roy Hughes shoots his three fellow passengers. So the movie will concern Roy Hughes, El Moreno, and El Moreno's outlaws? Not quite; El Moreno pulls a double cross on his inside man and kills him. So the movie concerns El Moreno and his outlaws? Not quite; seconds later, a second gang of outlaws, led by a man named Lasky, pops up from behind the rocks and blows away El Moreno and his gang. So the movie concerns Lasky and his gang? Not quite; after Lasky's gang steals the strongbox from the stagecoach and takes it to another location, Lasky then blows away all of the members of his gang with a gatling gun. I swear there must be at least one murder for every minute of this movie's running time - another reason why this movie is so cool.

Lasky, by the way, is played by Klaus Kinski*(spelled "Kinsky" in the credits), that lovable scamp who always shows in the movies he's cast in the hospitality his fellow Germans are well known for. Seriously, when it comes to playing gleefully sadistic villains, you couldn't do better than Kinski. Even if the character of Lasky didn't shoot all of his victims in the head (if not using a gatlin gun on them), he would still be a vicious S.O.B. because of Kinski's intense performance. He doesn't just blast a lot of people, he blasts a whole lot of them, and every scene where he's slaughtering people left and right comes across as high impact as the bullets that pierce those brains. Sartana has a number of great killing sprees as well. The highlight is one scene where, fleeing on foot from his horseback pursuers, he leaps and bounds all around the sand dunes and manages to pick off his opponents one by one. Every action scene in the movie is well done, and I looked forward to each one, knowing that I would only have to wait a few minutes for the next one.

There's also the occasional touch by the director that shows us something in a unique or strange manner that catches us off balance and making us wonder what weirdness or interesting point of view we'll see next. When Sartana is examining some dead bandits, we see it as if we are looking through his eyes as he looks down and walks across the bodies. The director also throws in on occasion odd things about the character, like one villain who has a tiny bell attached to his spur. As a result, the movie has an oddness, kind of like we're on a parallel world where things are similar but not quite the same as they were on earth. I think that was the most appropriate atmosphere to make for the character of Sartana, because there are vague suggestions that he has some kind of mystic quality, and that he's not just a man who happens to be good at what he does.

If we are indeed in some kind of fantasy world, there still has to be some kind of logic to what happens, an understanding as to why things are the way they are, and why characters do certain things. And it's here where the movie shows its weakness. Some of the confusion in the movie is no doubt from what seems to be scenes edited out of the print I saw. Several times, the music playing in the background is suddenly cut off when the action jumps to another scene, clearly indicating some footage was cut out. Possibly it was in this footage that key explanation of the plot - apparently involving some rich louts trying to cheat the company that's insured their fortune - existed. Perhaps the screenplay was just simply underwritten. The most likely explanation was that it was a combination of both.

What's remaining is an utter mess of the vaguely defined participants apparently double-crossing each other and scheming various schemes. I honestly didn't have any clear idea of what exactly was the plan, even after the long-winded speech of one of the characters that's supposed to explain everything. There are a number of other details in the movie that are never explained, like how everyone knows Sartana's name when he never tells it to anyone, how Lasky recovers his gatlin gun later in the movie after he lost it, and how one character managed to catch another before giving him a beating.

If the storytelling was complete, we might have had a spaghetti western classic here, even if the plotline had been more formalistic. There's certainly enough action and cool attitude here to make the movie rise from a standard story. As it is now, there's still enough of what you demand of a spaghetti western here so that when things become extremely stupid, you are still able to watch the movie, for you know that in a short while the movie will return to more ass kicking. And I found enough quality ass kicking here to make me eager to find another entry in the Sartana series.

* ...or is he? Some reference materials I looked up say otherwise. But if they are correct, this actor sure looks a hell like Kinski! I'm going to say this guy is Kinski - because in a perfect world that's who it definitely would be, and besides, it's my web page.

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See also: Outlaw Force, Scarface Killer, The Stalking Moon