Film

'Sartana in the Valley of Death' Is Missing a Protagonist

Even though this Valley of Death tips its hat to the classic spaghetti western Sartana character, he is nowhere to be found in the film. Based on how bad this is, that's probably for the best.


Sartana in the Valley of Death

Director: Roberto Mauri
Cast: William Berger, Wayde Preston, Aldo Berti, Jolanda Modio, Pamela Tudor, Luciano Pigozzi, Rick Boyd, Franco De Rosa, Franco Ressel, Josiane Marie Tanzilli, Betsy Bell
Studio: Victor Produzione
Year: 1970
Italy Release Date: 1970-08-15

Despite the name being featured in its title, Sartana in the Valley of Death (1970) doesn't have the classic spaghetti western character Sartana in it. Sartana is most notably brought to life by Gianni Garko in If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968) under the direction of Gianfranco Parolini. Garko went on to make the character a spaghetti western legend in the Giuliano Carnimeo directed films I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death (1969), Have A Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay (1970), and Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming (1970). Alas, even though this Valley of Death tips its hat to the Sartana character, he is nowhere to be found -- the name never appears in the film.

Producer Enzo Boetani seems to have put the name in his movie's title with hopes of fooling audiences into thinking it was part of the "Sartana" series, which in 1970 were selling out theaters. But if one goes to Sartana in the Valley of Death expecting to see the iconic character of Sartana in another entertaining Sartana movie, disappointment is bound to come. In contrast to the real Sartana films, there is very little to like about Sartana in the Valley of Death.

The plot is interesting on paper but boring on film. Lee Galloway (William Berger) is hired to free the three Craig brothers from jail: Jason (Wayde Preston), Pete (Aldo Berti), and Slim (Rick Boyrd). Once freed, the brothers double-cross him. After a face-off that is so forgettable I don't remember any of it, the three brothers end up with all of the horses while Galloway ends up with all the guns. Eager for revenge, Galloway follows them into the eponymous "Valley of Death" where a gun versus horse conflict plays out.

In spite of how promising this premise sounds, it is a conflict so underdeveloped that it would be better suited for a kindergarten theatre production than a spaghetti western. There is one somewhat entertaining scene where the three brothers ride their horses around in circles on a distant hilltop while laughing at Galloway's frustrating attempts to shoot them. Even here, though, it feels like there was nothing at stake, that the characters were no more than paper-dolls in an impromptu puppet show. It's all in the name of fun and games, sure, but the fun is forced and the games uninventive. The film requires the viewer to invest nothing in the paper puppets prancing before us. We don't care about them, and so we don't care about the film.

Most of the problems with Sartana in the Valley of Death can be blamed on Roberto Mauri, who both wrote and directed it. The movie's pace is so off whack that one suspects that he started shooting with nothing but a premise and wrote the majority of the screenplay in between takes. He starts the film off with a sense of haste by showing Galloway in a series of shootouts -- most of which are uninspired with the exception of one, where he makes the ground explode by shooting it, that is just absolutely ridiculous. These shooting matches are meant to prove to the audience that this protagonist is a force to be reckoned with, and they loosely accomplish this goal.

Right at this point, however, Mauri then puts on the brakes without notice, forcing us to endure the sight of Galloway sluggishly walking around a bad excuse for a desert. This so-called "valley of death" is nothing more than piles of sand haphazardly poured into ten-foot mounds in an attempt to look like the Spanish deserts used in the genre's better films. If these aimless valley scenes aren't boring enough, Mauri also feeds us scene upon scene featuring clockwork dolls, which would have been a very spaghetti western flavored topping if they had even a little significance to the events playing out before us.

Meanwhile, Augusto Martelli's folksy score, when combined with the distractingly bad acting of nearly every supporting player, only adds to the tediousness that marks the majority of the plot. Taken on its own, the score isn't all that bad, and nowhere near the worst the genre has to offer. The problem is that the music doesn't meld well with the feeling of the film. The music is light-hearted, at times even whimsical, which would have worked fine if Sartana in the Valley of Death had been in the vein of the genre's comedic, campy, or even psychedelic entires, but it isn't. Instead, the film tries to be serious and it seriously fails.

In fact, I can't think of a single member of the cast that produced any kind of emotion in me, humorous or otherwise -- unless you count the excitement I felt at the sight of the doll-maker's daughter (Josiane Marie Tanzilli). She barely reads a line, and only has five minutes at most of screentime, but she is stunning. Martelli was a fool for not using her presence to distract us from all the bad acting. Even Berger, who is usually a sure thing as a spaghetti western villain, is soulless as Galloway; it's as though he can't handle the pressure of being a film's lead protagonist. This is definitely the least memorable role I've seen him in, even though it is his biggest.

With all that said, Sartana in the Valley of Death isn't the worst spaghetti western ever made. To be sure, it is terrible on the whole, but there are some successes that are worth pointing out.

The premise is original. A handful of other beautiful women, in addition to the doll-maker's daughter, make appearances, representing a type that helps define the genre. The music is interesting, if out of place. Even though he misses his mark, William Berger is still William Berger. I also enjoyed some of director Mauri's camera work, such as when Galloway sneaks up on the three brothers and we both move and see from his perspective, crouching behind bushes and zooming up on the guns. Lastly, there's the matter of the death-by-scorpion in the final showdown: although incredibly unrealistic, it's hard to deny that it's pretty cool. If only one could say the same for the rest of Sartana in the Valley of Death.

3


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.