If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)

“If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death” (1968), directed by Gianfranco Parolini and starring Gianni Garko, William Berger Fernando Sancho, Sidney Chaplin(!) and Klaus Kinski phoning in a cameo role, has only one great thing going for it, and that’s its ridiculously over the top title. The rest is a banal Spaghetti Western that has no tension and no direction.

The script, such as it is, has a lot of incident and detail, none of which is interesting, as it is completely convoluted and very hard to care what happens to whom. Still, the plot is something like this: Sartana (Garko) gets involved with an insurance swindle run by several dignitaries, who hire a Mexican gang to steal a strong-box, and an American gang, led by Lasky (Berger), to kill the Mexicans.

It takes a very long time, too long, to find all this out, and by that point, I ceased to care. Berger is a good actor, one that fits very well into the greed-fill world of Spaghetti’s, but isn’t given anything interesting to do and is wasted completely. Kinski obviously was doing his role for the money, which is a shame, as his is, career wise the best actor in the film. Garko has a good opening line (“I am your pallbearer.”), but not much else, and doesn’t have the same magnetic presence as Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef.

The director made “Sartana” and other “Circus” Westerns like this. They’re called “Circus” Westerns because there is so much jumping around and choreographed back-flips that you might be watching a kung-fu movie and not a Spaghetti. The sets here aren’t so much grand as big, to accommodate all the acrobatics; it has a hefty budget, but the desert scenes are shot in some quarry. Why? I suspect because Parolini was more interest in making an action film that just happened to be set in the West than creating a Western. These types of Spaghetti’s were certainly very popular in their day, and they gave a lifeline to an ailing genre a few years later. I just wish the lifeline had been better. Maybe saying this movie is an insult to the genre is too strong, but when you see progressive and transcendent Spaghetti Westerns like “Black Jack” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” that were made in the same year, you realise how lazy this film is.