Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

I Am Sartana, Your Gravedigger! (1969)
Available from European Trash Cinema | Review by Dan Taylor

After much anticipation I finally got a chance to sit down with the entertaining, but ultimately disappointing, I AM SARTANA, YOUR GRAVEDIGGER (aka I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH). On the one hand I was totally jazzed to see the top-notch cast: Gianni Garko (billed as John Garko) from the highly entertaining THE PRICE OF DEATH and FIVE FOR HELL stars as the titular gunman, Frank Wolff from THE GREAT SILENCE turns up as Sartana's snitch pal Buddy Ben, and the ever-reliable Klaus Kinski lends his support as a gambling-addicted bounty hunter with the awesome name of Hot Dead. Yes, Hot Dead.

When Sartana is falsely accused of robbing a bank of $300,000 he finds himself with a $10,000 bounty on his head. Not surprisingly, this kind of coin brings enemies, friends and casual acquaintances of the derringer-packing gunman out of the woodwork looking to collect... dead or alive.

Traveling the countryside, Sartana tracks down clues, gets into adventures, and kills somewhere around a hundred or so of the most incredibly inept gunslingers ever to strap on a six-shooter.

On the other hand, the episodic nature of Sartana's travels makes for a storyline that never engages. The flick doesn't so much progress as it meanders lazily and it feels like there are a bazillion side characters all of whom have connections to our anti-hero, yet I never really cared about them. Mostly they were little more than corpse fodder as Sartana gets to the bottom of the faux heist.

Which is too bad because Garko brings the same screen presence, charm and acrobatic flair to the role as he did to his performance as Mr. Silver in the exceptional giallo western THE PRICE OF DEATH (also co-starring Kinski). There's a smug self-assuredness to his Sartana. No cuffs can hold him, no number of gunslingers rattles him, all of which does him a disservice because we never feel like the character is in any danger. I've not seen any of the other three Sartana flicks (this is the second), but my appreciation for Garko grows with each role so I'll definitely be checking them out – especially 1968's IF YOU MEET SARTANA PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH, which also features Kinski but in what appears to be a different role than Hot Dead.

Speaking of Hot Dead, Kinski is downright charming as the unrepentant gambler who uses his side job as a bounty hunter to fund his addiction. Aside from a fun showdown with Sartana towards the film's conclusion, Kinski's standout scene comes when he discovers that the friendly game of poker he's playing on a stagecoach is rigged. When the stagecoach is robbed Hot Dead coolly dispenses with the gunmen and has their bodies thrown aboard so he can stake his game with the bounties on their heads. He even has his own little theme music, though it sounds vaguely like a Christmas carol by way of Nashville. It's a surprisingly light role for the notoriously high-strung Kinski and makes for an interesting flip-side to his turn as Loco, the brutal bounty hunter that steals the show in Sergio Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE.

With colorful character names like Hot Dead, Butch Dynamite, Slim Shotgun and Tracey Three Aces, one would expect I AM SARTANA to be more entertaining. While Garko, Kinski and Wolff give it their best, this Sartana adventure comes up a little short.

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