Judge Gordon Sullivan is the worst kind of varmint.
The man with gunsight eyes comes to kill!
Though film hasn't spawned quite as many crazy sub-genres as electronic music, there are still more kinds of film than any person can reasonably explore in a lifetime. Luckily, the cream tends to rise, so most people have at least heard of the best examples from a wide variety of sub-genres: Nazisploitation might not have taken over the world, but adventurous viewers have heard of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Most of the time that cream rises to the by either being infamous or good. The flipside to that is that most of the stuff that doesn't make it is often horrible, or only appealing to very special taste. Occasionally, though, there are those B+/A- genre films that aren't quite good enough to earn worldwide acclaim, but also shouldn't be forgotten. In the case of the spaghetti westerns, the works of Sergio Leone are often the only films people are familiar with. There's nothing wrong with that at all…his films are amazing…but the quality of those kind of westerns drops off pretty precipitously into low-budget, poorly-acted rip-offs of his work. In that middle ground, though, is Sabata, a film that's not a classic that everyone should see, but for those who enjoyed Leone's films it's worth a look.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) rides into the town of Daugherty just after someone pulled off a robbery on the town's bank. Sabata, as a bounty hunter, is able to track down the robbers and return the money. He also discovers that something isn't right in the town, as one of the town leaders is behind the robbery in an elaborate scheme to buy up land and sell it to the government to put in a railroad. With the town leaders against him, Sabata has to team up with a former soldier (Ignazio Spalla, Any Gun Can Play) and a silent Indian (Aldo Canti, The Ten Gladiators) who has some acrobatic training.
The main reason to watch Sabata is that Lee Van Cleef is in the top tier of those who can pull off the steely-eyed drifter performance. If you've seen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, then you know how much menace he can manifest. Because he's a bounty hunter, Sabata is pretty amoral, more of an anti-hero than the traditional white-hatted Western good guy. Van Cleef gets to stalk around the small town of Daughtery playing his variation on the Man with No Name, and it's an impressive performance to behold. Thought I don't usually go in for Hollywood nostalgia about the male actors of yesteryear, I will say that they don't make them like Van Cleef anymore.
The other reason to watch Sabata is that a lot of weird stuff happens. One of Sabata's side-kicks, Indio, somehow got trained as an acrobat. So his fighting style involves a bunch of backflips and knife-throws like he's under a tent instead of in a desert town. Along with Sabata, a guy called Banjo also comes to town. He looks like he'll play the town idiot, but instead he conceals a rifle in his banjo. Bad guy Stengal likes to duel in his office. Even Sabata has a custom pistol and a penchant for tricking opponents with mirrors. It all adds up to a pretty weird western that can feel, at times, like it's trying to hard. But then the actors treat it so convincingly that it's hard to argue with the goofiness.
Sabata (Blu-ray) gets a solid, bare-bones release. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer appears to have been taken from a decent print which sports only the occasional bit of speckling and softness. Otherwise, this is a transfer that preserves the film-like qualities of the print. Detail, especially in close-ups, is excellent, and colors are muted but appropriate. Black levels fluctuate a bit and aren't as deep as perfect films, but overall the film is an improvement over previous SD releases. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono mix is also pretty good given the source. Dialogue is easy to hear and the film's music sounds pretty clear and well balanced as well. The film's only extra is the theatrical trailer. It's not much, but as far as trailers go it's pretty good.
This is not quite a classic western in the Italian tradition. On the one hand it's a bit too generic to really stand out in terms of its plot, while all of its characters feel like they're trying too hard. Again, it's worth watching for fans of these kinds of films, but it's definitely not a place to start with the genre.
Sabata is a fun second-tier Italian western that sports engaging performances from everyone involved, especially Lee Van Cleef. It's not the place to start with the genre, but for those who've made it through all the classics, this is a good option. For those who are already fans of the film, this disc might not offer any new extras, but it does offer a nicely upgraded presentation.
Goofy, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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