We look back at the stylish 1969 gunfighter tale starring Lee Van Cleef.
Editor's Note: Throughout the month of October, C&I is celebrating the golden westerns of 1969, a year that changed the game for the beloved film genre. Check the Entertainment tab each day to see a different film recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for the upcoming November/December 2019 print edition, which prominently features one of the 25 greatest films of 1969 on its cover.
A violent Spaghetti Western spiced with dollops of dark comedy, Sabata showcases Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) in the title role as a gunfighter whose tricky weaponry and unfailing accuracy serve him well when he rides into a small Texas town.
Sabata is the right man in the right place when he foils a bank robbery in Daugherty and dispatches the bandits. As it turns out, however, the robbery was masterminded by three seemingly upright citizens who want the cash to buy land that will greatly increase in value when the railroad comes through.
When Sabata attempts to blackmail the conspirators, they in turn hire gunslingers to rid themselves of “the man with gunsight eyes” (as Van Cleef’s character was described in the movie’s original ad campaign). Chief among the newly employed: Banjo (William Berger), a formidable varmint who hides a modified Winchester in his ... well, his banjo.
Sabata — which opened in the United States nearly a year after its September 1969 premiere in Italy — was directed by Gianfranco Paroli, an Italian filmmaker often credited as Frank Kramer. He would later direct two sequels to this international box-office hit: Adios, Sabata (1970), in which Magnificent Seven star Yul Brynner assumed the lead role, and Return of Sabata (1971), which brought Van Cleef back for more gun-blazing action. As often happened during the heyday of Spaghetti Westerns, the trilogy spawned several unauthorized spin-offs, including such colorfully titled but totally unrelated knock-offs as Dig Your Grave, Friend… Sabata’s Coming (1971) and Watch Out, Gringo! Sabata Will Return (1972).