Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Originally from Sicily, director Roberto Mauri was involved with many worthwhile sword and sandal films and westerns in the 1960’s……and he continued on, doing whatever genre of film was in fashion at the time. 1968-69 alone saw him doing the great western with Tab Hunter SHOTGUN, the beyond-belief KING OF KONG ISLAND, and one of the late-period Kommissar X films, THREE GOLDEN SERPENTS aka ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS, the latter two starring BRAD HARRIS, an American who was quite successful as a sword and sandal star (his FURY OF HERCULES and SAMSON sold tens of thousands of copies each in the early days of VHS) then Eurospy star then Eurowestern star. Harris was also a stunt director who had a background working with second-unit (action) work and as an athlete himself did a fine job of fight choreography. As a lead actor, he had a strong presence and the gravitas needed to play Hercules/Maciste, but he also could radiate a real charm, and in his Kommissar X films with Tony Kendall he had a great sense of humor. Having worked with Mauri before, he was a natural choice for leading man for this low-budget formula Eurowestern made in 1970.

One thing the viewer notices in 1970-71 lower-rung Eurowesterns is how they were no longer being shot in Almeria, Spain----no more of those endless, expansive stretches of barren imitation US Southwest/Northern Mexico. Instead, they were shot within driving distance of Rome in wooded areas where they could be found (and they weren’t that large when they were found), so the films had a very different look, and with the landscape being a huge presence in the earlier films, with a sense of dread and foreboding and bleakness, the later films had a different FEEL.

Also, there seems to be by 1970 fewer of the operatic, Gothic touches one would have seen in films from 1966-1968. Individual directors would still have their own unique styles (Gianfranco Parolini, aka Frank Kramer, who’d worked a lot with Brad Harris in the early-to-mid 60’s, for instance, played by his own rulebook in the early 70’s), but there were a number of relatively straight-forward, bread and butter westerns that moved from Point A to Point B relatively simply, with the kind of matter-of-fact approach one would see in the series B-Westerns of the 1930’s and 1940’s—westerns that were made because there was an audience wanting to see them and which were ground out quickly by people who had an intuitive feel for the genre. By 1970, the Eurowestern had its core audience both in Europe and abroad, people who would pay to see anything that resembled what they were expecting, and modest-budgeted films (no expensive location shooting in Spain!) that had few pretensions but delivered the goods had a niche market.

WANTED: SABATA is one of those. The plot could be written on a napkin in magic marker. It could be from a 1930’s Bob Steele western (one where the plot DID NOT involve Bob on the revenge path because his father was killed). Sabata (played by Brad Harris), a simple rancher who’d had some trouble earlier in his life and is trying to rebuild things for himself, is tagged for destruction by someone who sold Sabata some land and wants it back (or something like that….my Italian is not good and the subtitles are minimal, and based on what I do know, not always accurate). This character (Jim Sparrow) is played by Greek actor Vassily Karis, and to say he’s over the top is an understatement. In a 30’s western, the character would probably be played by Wheeler Oakman (as in THE MAN FROM GUNTOWN, with Tim McCoy), at his leering, twitchy best. Just in case you weren’t sure HOW bad a person he is, in the first three minutes of the film, when Sparrow’s brother takes him to task for being so maniacal in his hatred of Sabata, who has done nothing wrong, Sparrow blows his brother away….and then pins the murder on Sabata. Sabata is captured, escapes, flees, and hides out in the hills while plotting his strategy and eventually gets justice. Well, kind of…..a Roy Rogers kind of justice that might seem unsatisfying to Eurowestern fans who grew up on those immortal lines from the trailer of DEATH RIDES A HORSE, “when you’ve been searching fifteen years for a man, it’s a shame you can only kill him once!”

Brad Harris does not get good notices from the few who have written about this film, but he and the director have clearly decided for him to under-play the part, a la Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. I feel that Harris is a strong enough presence to pull the viewer in with this approach, in the way a Randolph Scott or a Charles Bronson could, and that it fits the character, who is meant to be something of a cipher, but you the viewer can decide for yourself.

Not sure that this was ever given an English dub. I watched it on You Tube in Italian with minimal English subtitles. You’ll have no problem following it. I first watched it this summer, when I was in El Paso, and my wife was busy with her Mom running some errands…..I borrowed her tablet and watched it on that while the ladies were out for the afternoon. I’ve now watched it a second time, and I do think that people who enjoy a straightforward Spaghetti Western that is full of action and suspense, has a decent musical score, and moves quickly will find this to be 90 minutes of their life not wasted. Also, Brad Harris has many fans (Mr. Harris just passed away a year or so ago), and his westerns are not as well known as his sword and sandal and his Eurospy films. Considering this is up for free on You Tube in an OK quality widescreen copy, what are you waiting for?

Oh, this character has zero to do with the Sabata of Lee Van Cleef (or the Sabata through dubbing after the fact of Yul Brynner). Like the many cut-rate Django ripoffs and Sartana ripoffs—or the many Italian “Maciste” films which became Hercules films when dubbed into English--they just took the name and hoped it brought a few more patrons into the theater. For me, that just adds to the charm.

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