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Have A Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay
(Video title: Stranger's Gold)
(1971)
 

Director: Anthony Ascotti                
Cast:
John Garko, Antonio Vilar, Daniela Giordano


All of us have had brief moments, while watching movies, when we feel that a particular scene is absolutely perfect. That's what I felt during one moment in Have A Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay. It happened at the very beginning of the movie; there's a shot of a cabin in the empty desert at dusk. Bong.... bong.... we hear on the soundtrack, along with the noise of a gentle breeze The camera moves to the right and focu"In the dark, flames behind me, gun on my shoulders.... do I now look cool enough, Mr. Director?"ses on an untrustworthy face in the foreground. At that moment, the individual notes from the plucked strings of a guitar fill the air. Perfect. We then immediately find ourselves immersed in the raw unalterated essence of the spaghetti western for a few seconds. Especially satisfying to gourmets of this particular film culinary art. Next, we see that shifty man and his partners go forward to massacre the people inside the cabin, setting it ablaze in the process. Seconds later, a tall man in black steps out of the shadows. The killers can't do without a witness, telling this stranger, "Better pray for your mortal soul." The stranger immediately replies, "I'll pray for yours!" and BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM, he cuts down the four killers with his rifle.

There are also moments when we feel our bloodlust both pumped up and satisfied. Plus, there are also whole strings of moments when, put together, result in a cool movie, both in its quality and its attitude. Have A Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay, one of the later sequels to If You Meet Sartana... Pray For Your Death (what is it with Italians and long movie titles, anyway?), is one of those movies, one that has so much attitude and sheer coolness, it's mighty tough to resist. It does contain  many of the very familiar ingredients found in typical spaghetti westerns, though the high quality of these ingredients still make it a dish to be savored. Actually, the central tone of the movie is somewhat different than usual; surrounding those ingredients around this different tone, plus some odd direction, admittedly make it a perplexing experience at times. Still, while it may have a strange aftertaste, it's definitely worth searching your local video store's menu for.

This time around, the mysterious Sartana has popped up near the town of Indian Creek - for mysterious reasons of his own - where he stumbled upon the massacre. Some quick investigating soon reveals to him that there are now various parties who are now anxious to buy the worthless desert property of the now dead "I hope that cigar isn't a phallic symbol, Mr. Sartana." owner. And someone is secretly hiring men to try and do away with Sartana poking his nose into the affair. Is it the Chinese gambling hall owner? The corrupt sheriff? Hoffman, the banker? Abigail, the recently arrived niece of the former owner? Someone else in town? It seems everyone, with the exception of the town's coffin maker that Sartana befriends (and keeps hiring), is a suspect. It's quite a mystery, and that's what makes this movie a lot different from most other spaghetti westerns - it's essentially a murder mystery. Sure, there are shootouts and the like, but the overall tone is more low key, more like the feeling that's generated when Columbo goes place to place, suspect to suspect, during one of his own mysteries.

This atypical tone I didn't find unwelcome; in fact, I found it a pleasant surprise. But boy, does it tax on the brain at times. There are an incredible number of suspects on parade, all with their own agendas, and it's difficult at times to keep a mental scoreboard of just who is who, who wants what, what is what etc. It doesn't help that the movie sometimes doesn't tell us the names of some of these vital characters until late in the running time. Very confusing, and the at times bizarre directorial style of the movie adds not only to the confusion, but also add a peculiar feeling to all of the proceedings. When a curtain is opened, the whole room is suddenly bathed by a strong light coming from off camera. The camera operator frequently holds the camera itself, and the resulting photography makes tears come to our eyes with blurry close-ups, overenthusiastic use of the zoom lens, and a penchant for zooming into the open mouths of the characters.

In a lesser movie, this sloppiness could be the coup de grace in its damnnation, but this is no lesser movie - it's a Sartana movie! The man is back, and though he now sports a mustache, everything is pretty much the same about him. He still carries that rifle and mini-pistol, and dresses in that "DY-NO-MITE!" fancy black suit that seldom gets a ruffle or a speck of dust on it. He can put out a candle at twenty paces by a thrown playing card, or blow someone away while his rifle rests on his shoulders behind his neck. He plays every encounter as if he was playing an intense game of chess, sometimes making an immediate sacrifice in order to make a later gain. He's so cool, he not only can light a cigar from the lit fuse of a stick of dynamite, he's one of the few spaghetti western heroes to get laid in a movie! (Sexual stuff is usually absent from your typical spaghetti western.)

Of course, it's in the action department that our friend really delivers. "You don't want to kill me," he tells someone at one point, "because I don't allow myself to get killed." As I mentioned before, there aren't as many action sequences as in other spaghetti westerns, but what there is here qualify as high quality kills. "If my stereotypical behavior isn't cutting enough, here's a knife!" Early in the movie, there is a mass brawl in a casino that rivals the one in the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movie Odds And Evens. Later, there's a sequence in a barn, with Sartana is against four foes, where he does one fancy trick after another that'll probably get you to reach for the rewind button. In fact, in just about every confrontation Sartana has, he pulls of some kind of trick that may be outlandish, but hey, it gets results. Besides, sometimes the situation Sartana finds himself in is outlandish, like the sequence where he has to defend himself against the power of kung fu.

Have A Good Funeral My Friend... Sartana Will Pay is not just a movie with a good long title to help pad out a review, it's a good movie, period. It certainly isn't perfect, but scattered throughout, you can find elements that would be in the perfect spaghetti western. Those samples alone give you enough of a craving to digest the few undesirable elements. You can take Django, Sabata, Trinity, and The Man With No Name - I'm taking Sartana. Not just because he's more unknown than those other guys, but because he outdoes them in sheer coolness.

(Note: For some reason, the English version of this movie - which was releasSome books not even adults should open up!ed on the now defunct Video Gems label - eliminates  most of the opening credits, which leaves some awkward long spots during the credits sequence where the burning cabin is on display, which obviously had additional credits over them in the Italian version. It's especially a shame, because some viewers will no doubt be impressed by the musical score, and may wonder like me if it was composed by Ennio Morricone. Some research I subsequently implemented uncovered that the score was actually composed by Bruno Nicolai -  a composer many thought was Morricone using a pseudonym!)

Check for availability on Amazon.
Check Amazon for movie's soundtrack (CD)
Check Amazon for essential book "Spaghetti Westerns"

Also: If You Meet Sartana..., A Minute To Pray..., The Stalking Moon

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