Because of the first Sartana film, Gianfranco Parolini’s If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death (1968), I was both wary and excited going into I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death (1969), the second installment in the original cycle of Sartana films. Parolini was replaced with the less experienced Giuliano Carnimeo, and as such, I was concerned that many of the best aspects of the first film would be lost. But with Gianni Garko again playing Sartana, I was also hopeful that this iconic Spaghetti Western character would be further developed and enhanced with this second entry.
If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death introduces Garko’s relaxed acting and mysterious aura as Sartana, that immaculately dressed, quick-witted gambler of an anti-hero who uses a four-barreled Derringer pocket pistol and an assortment of booby-traps to take down his foes with great style. In addition to that, the first Sartana film had two things going for it: its stunt-heavy, acrobatic-like action that added energy to the chases on horseback and the gunfights, and its mind-blowing body-count that distracted from its mess of a plot.
Since Parolini puts both of these traits on show in his Lee Van Cleef-led Sabata trilogy (1969-1971), I assumed that they were unique to him rather than to the first Sartana film and that they would be absent from the second Sartana film, because Parolini himself is. If those redeeming aspects of the first film weren’t presented in the second, then what would we be left with? Garko would surely be able to match his performance as Sartana a second time, but what would Carnimeo offer as director that could make up for Parolini’s missing touch that helps make the first film so entertaining?
Before directing I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death, Carnimeo had only two films to his name: his unbalanced but fun The Moment of Killing (1968), and the mediocre but nicely filmed Jeffrey Hunter vehicle Find a Place to Die (1968). While both films are impressive for an unexperienced director, they are, taken on their own, nothing too memorable; at least, not as memorable as I was expecting the second installment in the Sartana cycle to be.
I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death opens up by showing Sartana lead a gang in a bank robbery. We quickly find out, however, that it is merely someone dressed as Sartana trying to set him up. The set-up is successful, and the real Sartana becomes a wanted man. The rest of the film follows him as he tries to find out who was behind the bank robbery while fighting off an assortment of bounty hunters that are after his head. With the help of an old friend named Buddy Ben (Fank Wolff), Sartana eventually finds out who set him up, but along the way there are a lot of incredibly hard to follow little plot points that come off as completely nonsensical.
In the sense that the story development is a confusing mess, Carnimeo’s I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death is very similar to If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death. But Carnimeo also does a fine job of emphasizing the easy-to-fall-for character traits of Sartana himself that Parolini and Garko originally brought to life: he’s a good-looking, well-dressed charmer with a skill set somewhere between a master illusionist and an all-powerful mystic who doesn’t hesitate to draw his gun or drop a one-liner. There is also, just as in the first film, a role for the always brilliant Klaus Kinski.
For me, an appearance from Kinski always takes a film up a notch or two. But as was the case in the first Sartana film, Kinski is not given nearly enough screen time in I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death. His genius is once again more or less wasted. Nevertheless, the scenes that do feature Kinski are great as always. He plays a dandy-like gambling addict who is just one of the many bounty hunters after Sartana, but, after losing a hand in poker to Sartana, he says the best line of the film: “You only won because I was persecuted by misfortune.” Kinski might very well be the brightest star in the entire spaghetti western genre, and it’s always a shame to see his talent wasted, but some Kinski is better than no Kinski.
The acting in his Sartana film is pretty damn good across the board, and although I prefer Garko’s more subtle, mysterious performance in the first Sartana film, he does an excellent job here of keeping us entertained in spite of the confusing plot that, at times, takes on an uninteresting episodic rhythm. There’s also plenty of the action that is so necessary to the enjoyment of these films, in addition to a solid score by Vasco & Mancuso. But neither the action nor the score reaches the level of what was displayed in the first Sartana film, If You Meet Sartana… Pray For Your Death — which itself was far from being a masterpiece — so although I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death is worth watching for fans of this character, it’s definitely not a high point in the cycle.