Originally known as Il venditore di morte, this spaghetti western curio casts the original Sartana, Gianni Garko in a rip-off Sartana movie making this the genre equivalent of Never Say Never Again (1983). And much like that ersatz James Bond movie, this suffers from something of an uneven tone. Things start well with a giallo style opening scene shot from a killer’s P.O.V. as he stalks and stabs a young Mexican girl to death. Her grieving parents implore Sartana a.k.a. Silver (Gianni Garko), a suave playboy gunfighter enjoying judo practice and sultry senoritas at his lavish villa, who inexplicably refuses to help.
Meanwhile, three masked gunmen hold-up a casino in the town of Appleby, killing three innocent bystanders. The Sheriff kills two but the third man rides away. Suspicion falls on local miscreant Chester Conway (Klaus Kinski), but though gutsy casino owner Polly Whitaker has every reason to want him dead, seeing as he killed her parents, she knows he is not guilty of this particular crime. Polly’s reluctance to testify to the contrary earns her the enmity of the townsfolk, who all seem a little too eager to sweep this incident under the carpet. Chaplinesque lawyer Jeff Plummer brings his old pal Sartana onto the case, though why the legendary her agrees to aid a violent outlaw and not a poor Mexican family is never explained. Sartana does some investigating but finds his efforts hindered by a shotgun-wielding killer in a black hood.
More a mystery-thriller than a wild west shoot ’em up, the film is talky and slow but laced with a rich array of eccentric characters and rife with darkly comic social commentary. The story has some depth in that it highlights how the hypocritical townsfolk scorn various “lowlifes”, yet secretly profit from their exploits. Sartana/Silver unmasks virtually the whole town as corrupt in some way while even those not complicit in the crime are so venal they obstruct his investigation to safeguard their own interests. For example the climax rests on a farmer who won’t let our hero draw the bad guy out from the barn where he’s hiding, for fear they’ll injure his prize cows. Elsewhere, Judge Atwell is more interested in fining witnesses for supposed “contempt of court” than seeing justice done. The local doctor won’t waste good whiskey on a sick man. The town priest is only too happy to assist in a cover-up.
All of this makes for good, substantial drama, but the film is frustratingly inconsistent with characters that are hard to get a handle on. Polly for example (whose very Seventies, skin-tight pantsuits see her ogled by every man in town), seems to be our gutsy female lead, the hub around which the whole plot turns. She has this labyrinthine back-story but after a curious encounter with Sartana (where she takes offence because he does not want to sleep with her), abruptly exits when shot in the head. With a key component removed, much of the unfolding investigation relies on outlandish guesswork. Still, it’s nice to see Gianni Garko don his black suit and trick-shot derringer again. The various punch-ups are played for broad comedy, probably influenced by the success of the Trinity movies, which is somewhat jarring given they make light of more tragic events. Garko shows off his comedic chops as - quite unlike the ‘real’ Sartana - he stumbles from one mishap to the next, but plays a more cynical, mercenary character. The plot seemingly exists to uphold his credo “morality has no part of justice” and emerges a strange, confused fable. Garko played Sartana one last time in another rip-off movie Sartana Kills Them All (1971).