SABATA. Produzioni Europee Associati, Italy, 1969, as Ehi amico… c’è Saba Hai chiuso! United Artists, US, 1970 (dubbed). Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Ignazio Spalla, Aldo Canti, Pedro Sanchez, Nick Jordan, Franco Ressel, Anthony Gradwell, Linda Verasta. Director: Gianfranco Parolini.

   Don’t watch Sabata, the first of the Sabata Trilogy, for the plot. Because, truth be told, the plot is neither particularly interesting, nor is it central to the movie. Holding this enjoyably silly movie together are the following three key ingredients: Lee Van Cleef’s role as the title character; the Spaghetti Western visual aesthetic replete with wild zoom-ins; and, of course, distinct music that would be completely out of place anywhere but a late 1960s Italian western.

   Who is Sabata? He’s first and foremost a character portrayed by Lee Van Cleef. He’s also a drifter, gunfighter, friend, schemer, and vigilante who, one day, rides into a small Texas town. Lo and behold, the town just happens to experience a bank robbery soon upon Sabata’s arrival. He’s not responsible for the crime, however. The culprits are a ragtag group of outlaws and acrobats (just go with it). Sabata decides that he’s going to take it upon himself to bring the perpetrators to justice; well, his brand of justice anyway.

   After receiving a reward for retrieving the loot and returning it to its proper owners, Sabata soon discovers that the elite townsfolk are the ones really behind the crime. What’s a man like Sabata to do? Blackmail them, of course. This leads Sabata into an unlikely partnership with a drunken war veteran named Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla) and a mute Indian acrobat named Alley Cat (Aldo Canti). These two misfits become not just his partners, but also his hangout buddies. It also leads him headlong into a confrontation with a former associate, the mysterious banjo player named . . . Banjo (William Berger). He’s a gunfighter just like Sabata and he’s no pushover. So you know it’s going to be a fight to the finish.

   As I mentioned before, the plot is really secondary to the film’s aesthetic. If you don’t care for Spaghetti Westerns, Sabata isn’t going to work for you. If you do like them, you may agree with me that this is actually nifty little film that doesn’t require much from the viewer. What it lacks in coherence it more than makes up for in slightly off kilter visuals and well choreographed gunfights, all set to a remarkably effective soundtrack that really propels this buddy movie forward.