If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death ★★★★

It's not very often the hero of an Italian film, one of a pulpy genre nonetheless, is completely disinterested in women and slays his enemies with a tiny gun while playing a soft melody from his pocket watch. This is where this first Sartana film is vastly interesting. Part of the film has no real interest in deviating from the core elements of the highly popular spaghetti western. The narrative is rather predictable, obviously pulling on the success of a similar plot and "tough guy" wandering gunman that made Leone's early films so successful. It's a dusty, corrupt town. Two sides of evil gangs. One anti-hero with a mysterious agenda. Even the performance of Gianni Garko as the titular character is fairly straight forward. He seems to have a sly sense of humor and some impeccable style, but he's not much for words and all about how to enter a room. It's a well made film, but the script leaves a lot of depth and freshness to be desired.

On the other hand, there are some really clever executions and details to the film that set it apart from its peers. The action is crisp and entertaining, the characters are wild caricatures (including a great and unhinged performance from Klaus Kinski), and the film pops with some great dialogue and slick visual style. The film builds a fascinating mythos around Sartana with his strange small, four bullet carrying gun and his penchant for gimmicky traps. A sequence in a hotel room with a rope and a chair might be one of the highlights of that last point. It got a hearty laugh out of me. Director Gianfranco Parolini embraces the quirks of the execution too which is hugely beneficial to it.

Now that Arrow Video has released the five main films of the franchise, I'm ecstatic to dig into the rest. If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death is an entertaining and quirky start to this franchise.