Sartana is the name of a Spaghetti Western character who was introduced in If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death, directed by Gianfranco Parolini (aka Frank Kramer). Giuliano Carnimeo (aka Anthony Ascott) directed four other movies featuring what is basically the same character. Sartana was played by Gianni Garko in all but one of these films. His depiction of Sartana has maintained a cult following among Spaghetti Western fans.
Other Spaghetti Western films were made with characters that were named Sartana but were quite different in style and motivation.
The Sartana series
The original Sartana movies are:
- If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (Italian: Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte) (1968) – played by Gianni Garko and directed by Parolini.
- I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death (Italian: Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino) (1969) – played by Gianni Garko and directed by Carnimeo.
- I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin (Italian: C'è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara) (1970) – played by George Hilton and directed by Carnimeo; AKA A Fistful of Lead.
- Have a Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay (Italian: Buon funerale, amigos!... paga * Sartana) (1970) – played by Gianni Garko and directed by Carnimeo.
- Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming (Italian: Una nuvola di polvere... un grido di morte... arriva Sartana) (1970) – played by Gianni Garko and directed by Carnimeo.
The Sartana character is consistent throughout the original series. He is dressed in a black suit with a vest, white shirt and tie and a long black coat and likes to frequent gambling houses. He is surrounded by mystery, and he also uses this mystery as a weapon to unnerve his opponents – a melody from the musical watch of a dead man coming from nowhere, and answering the door one finds a corpse or a coffin. One pursues Sartana and finds only his clothes. He suddenly appears where it is improbable, or even physically impossible.
He uses trick weapons, like a derringer with double chambers, smoke bombs, throwing knives and even a robot (named Alfie). He swings a watch of lead or shoots cannon balls and bullets from the pipes of an organ or uses playing cards as throwing weapons. He also employs elaborated set piece traps.
In If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death, where people are killing each other over an elusive shipment of gold, we never know for sure whether he is an insurance agent or he will keep the gold for himself. In I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death he is framed for a bank robbery and hunted by bounty killers but after exposing the real guilty party (the banker himself) Sartana (and his partner) leave with the loot. Similarly, in the other original Sartana films the characters are motivated by money and it always ends up in the hands of Sartana - who might share it with someone else.
The original Sartana films have a high body count and much action. For example, during the 90 minutes of If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death, at least 80 persons are killed, including all the named characters except Sartana and his sidekick, the town undertaker! In this and the other Parolini/Carnimeo films, Sartana is confronted by one or several town bosses (male or female) and also a leader of a (most often Mexican) gang, as well as gunmen arriving to challenge him. There is also a gunfighter (most often blond and blue-eyed) that is almost the equal of Sartana. The latter may have a friend that assists him, but otherwise all parties successively ally with and betray each other in order to obtain some monetary object.
Gianni Garko played a character named Sartana in the 1967 Spaghetti Western, Mille dollari sul nero (also known as Blood at Sundown). This "pre-Sartana" is the evil brother of the hero and wears a Union army jacket, not a suit. According to Garko this film was very successful in Germany using the title "Sartana" and the film producer Aldo Addobbati contracted him to play a hero with that name in a new film. Garko rejected some scripts with vengeance stories and instead suggested that a hero using cunning and motivated by money, not passion, would be more in line with the current audience taste. The trick weapons and other gadgets used by Sartana, and the mystery surrounding the character were contributions from the director Parolini, who was inspired by James Bond movies and also by the cartoon Mandrake the Magician.
Like the Man with No Name hero of Sergio Leone's first western A Fistful of Dollars, Saratana manipulates other parties to fight each other and promote his own interests. He is even more similar to Colonel Mortimer, the second protagonist in Leone's next Western, For a Few Dollars More; for example, Mortimer also has a set of special weapons, including a derringer which also is the choice weapon of Sartana. Mortimer carries a mystery, a secret vengeance motive. Sartana's dress code also follows Col. Mortimer closely, except that the Sartana's suit is a bit more elegant in accordance with his more elegant social surroundings - establishments with lush interiors complete with saloon girls in long dresses and can-can dancing - compared to more mundane interiors in Leone's Westerns.
The story lines of the original Sartana films – with their frantic row of betrayals – owe a lot to Sergio Leone's third Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Besides the original Sartana cycle, this film inspired several other Spaghetti Westerns featuring multiple betrayals though none of them presented such a charismatic main character.
Other Sartana films
Just like other Spaghetti Western characters like Django, Trinity, Sabata, and Ringo, Sartana inspired numerous sequels, hoping to cash in on the success and popularity of the character. In many cases, the Sartana in these movies bore little resemblance to Garko's (and Hilton's) interpretations in the original film cycle. In other cases, the name "Sartana" was used in the film title (at least in some language versions), even if there was no Sartana character in the movie itself. In some movies, Sartana teamed up or faced off with characters named Trinity or Django. All this was common practise in the Italian commercial cinema of the time, not only in Spaghetti Westerns.
The other Spaghetti Western films that have "Sartana" in their (Italian) title are:
- Sartana Does Not Forgive (Italian: Sartana no perdone) (1969) – played by George Martin, director Alfonso Balcazar
- Shadow of Sartana... Shadow of your Death (Italian: Passa Sartana... è l'ombra della tua morte) (1969) – played by Jeff Cameron, director Demofilo Fidani.
- Four Came to Kill Sartana (Italian: ...e vennero in quattro per uccidere Sartana!) (1969) – played by Jeff Cameron, director Demofilo Fidani.
- One Damned Day at Dawn...Django Meets Sartana! (Italian: Quel maledetto giorno d'inverno... Django e Sartana all'ultimo sangue) (1970) – played by Fabio Testi, director Demofilo Fidani.
- Sartana in the Valley of Death (Italian: Sartana nella valle degli avvoltoi) (1970) – played by William Berger, director Roberto Mauri.
- Django and Sartana Are Coming... It's the End (Italian: Arrivano Django e Sartana... è la fine) (1970) – played by Hunt Powers, director Demofilo Fidani.
- Sartana Kills Them All (Italian: Un par de asesinos) (1971) – played by Johnny Garko, director Rafael Romero Marchent.
- Django Defies Sartana (Italian: Django sfida Sartana) (1971) – played by George Ardisson, director Pasquale Squitieri.
- Lets Go and Kill Sartana (Italian: Vamos a matar Sartana) (1971) - "Sartana" does not appear in the cast list, director Mario Pinzauti.
- Trinity and Sartana... Those Dirty S.O.B.s (Italian: Trinita e Sartana figli di...) (1972) – played by Robert Widmark, director Mario Siciliano.
- Alleluja & Sartana Are Sons... Sons of God (Italian: Alleluja e Sartana figli di... Dio) (1972) – played by Robert Widmark, director Mario Siciliano.
Among these films the three films of Fidani make a total reversal of the Carmineo/Parolini Sartana character, turning him into an unselfish crime fighter, while the two films by Mario Siciliano makes him a blond Trinity-type hero fighting long brawls or shooting at but not killing people whilst dressed in a buckskin jacket. Closest to the original is the city-dressed, money-oriented protagonist in Django defies Sartana who is paired with a Django character motivated by vengeance (and justice). In Sartana Does Not Forgive Sartana is an avenger while Sartana in the Valley of Death mostly plays out in a wilderness environment. You even find Sartana as a genre-typical Mexican bandit leader, played with usual gusto by Fernando Sancho, in Prima ti perdono…poi t'ammazzo (also known as Stagecoach of the Condemned).
The "other" Sartana films also lack the densely packed action and colorful array of characters that are found in the original Parolini and Carnimeo cycle. Generally, they also had far less success at the box office than the original Sartana films.
In Sartana Kills Them All Garko plays a character named Santana, who is dressed in a brown leather jacket with fringes, not a black suite and long coat. He kills people with an ordinary six-shooter in stand up duels and there is no aura of mystery surrounding him. He doesn't even end up with the money. In fact Garko put in his contract that "Sartana" couldn't be used as the name of the character. Despite this contract, "Sartana" was used as the name of the character in non-Spanish language and non-Italian language versions of the films.
Following his Sartana film, Parolini made two Westerns with a hero named Sabata. Like Sartana, Sabata wears a suit and uses trick weapons. He is money-motivated and confronts a similar set up of adversaries. Fittingly enough, Sabata is played by Lee Van Cleef, who did Col Mortimer in For a Few Dollars More. Another Parolini Western, Indio Black, was titled Adiós, Sabata outside Italy. This hero is played by Yul Brynner, and wears other types of clothes, but in terms of plots and situations the film is very close to Parolini's Sabata films. In fact, a "Sabata" character (played by Charles Southwood) dressed, immaculately of course, in a white (!) suit appears in the last Carnimeo Sartana vehicle, Sartana's Here... Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin.
Carnimeo and Garko also did They Call Him Cemetery (Italian: Gli fumavano le colt….lo chiamavano Camposanto) and His Name Was Holy Ghost (Italian: Uomo avvisato, mezzo ammazzato… parola di Spirito Santo), where heroes and stories have several things in common with the original Sartana films. Carnimeo and Hilton did two films with a hero called Halleluja and two more with a hero called Tresette. These characters were based on Hilton's Sartana performance but the stories gradually turn towards more comedy, just like Spaghetti Western films generally did at the time, in response to the pyramidal success of Barboni's Trinity movies. Likewise, Carnimeo had carefully staged fist fights gradually replace the high death count of the Sartana cycle.
In numerous films, including One Damned Day at Dawn... Django Meets Sartana! and Django Defies Sartana, Sartana and the Spaghetti western character Django appear side-by-side. Sartana has also been in films alongside Trinity.
Again, the Sabata, Spirito Santo and Hallelujah characters also spawned "others" that were far removed from the Parolini/Carnimeo originals.
- Eric Mache: Gianni Garko Interview. Westerns... All'Italiana! Fall 1992
- For example, Any Gun Can Play, One Dollar Too Many and Kill Them All and Come Back Alone.
- See Frayling (2006) pp. 68-102
- Fridlund (2008) p.55. For Italian Box Office intakes see Associazione Generalo Italiana Dello Spettacolo (A.G.I.S.), Catalogo generale dei film italiani dal 1965 al 1978, (Rome V edizione 1978) and also Poppi, Roberto/Pecorari, Mario, Dizonario del Cinema Italiano, I Film del 1960 al 1969, . I Film del 1970 al 1979, (Gremese Editore 1992 and 1996 respectively)
- FistfulOfWesterns.com – Sartana, info about Sartana can be found here
- Shobary's Spaghetti Westerns: Sartana, character profile of Sartana
- Len Liu's Beginner's Guide To The Official Sartana Movies, guide to the Sartana movies
- Frayling, Christopher (2006). Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone (Revised paperback edition). London, New York: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-207-3. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
- Fridlund, Bert. The Spaghetti Western. A Thematic Analysis. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland, 2006. Print.
- Fridlund, Bert. "'A First Class Pall-bearer!' The Sartana/Sabata Cycle in Spaghetti Westerns." Film International 6.3 (2008). Print.
- Joyeux, Francois. "Sartana Gianni Garko Anthony Ascott." Vampirella 13 (1974). Print.