These were the original notes for Hillside CD productions release of SABATA AND THE RETURN OF SABABTA from June 2001, the notes that appeared in the CD release, were EDITED badly….in Italy, so they did not read well, I hope this original version makes better reading.
SABATA /RETURN OF SABATA. GDM 2024.
Released in 1969 SABATA was the first in a trilogy of sagebrush sagas that were directed by Italian filmmaker Gianfranco Parolini under the alias of Frank Kramer. The movie enjoyed moderated success at the box office both in Italy and outside of its country of origin. Although the movie did not see the light of day until 1971 in the United Kingdom and arguably not in the same league as Sergio Leone’s DOLLAR TRILOGY or even achieving the popularity of the western movies of Corbucci and Sollima, it still nevertheless was an original and entertaining entry to the then growing catalogue of Italian or Spaghetti westerns. Photographed cleverly by Alessandro Mancori and with a hectic, diverse and at times chaotic storyline the movie took us on a veritable rollercoaster ride that involved ingeniously devised bank robberies, frantic chases, double dealing antics between the main protagonists and their allies, plus plots and counterplots that are laced with numerous gunfights and smartly staged showdowns. SABATA and its subsequent sequels managed to capture the attention of cinema goers during the early 1970’s when Spaghetti Western fever was running high, SABATA in-particular was filled with gimmicky little quirks that made the storyline highly implausible but at the same time were massively entertaining.
The film also contained many of the trademarks that we now so readily associate with the genre of the Italian western and also created a few that were to imitated by many other directors who were involved in the making of westerns at Cinecitta. The musical score for SABABTA was the work of Italian Maestro, Marcello Giombini, the composer who was at the time of the films release comparatively unknown outside of his native Italy, provided the movie with a score that was in effect a collection of themes which were written for the central characters of the story. The themes were heard throughout the film either as a character was about to enter the screen or was the centre of attraction on the screen. The composer utilised these musical motifs in a highly original and effective fashion and arranged and orchestrated them in varying ways throughout the proceedings to keep them fresh and vibrant. Because of the composers approach to scoring SABATA it was at times possible not to have to look at the movie to see which of the main characters was on screen as Giombini’s excellent and infectious music would tell you this.
The villain of the piece,(if there are villains and heroes in Italian westerns) Stengal is portrayed convincingly by actor Franco Ressel is often accompanied by a slow and powerful composition that has a slow and deliberate sounding tempo, the trumpet led piece is supported throughout by dramatic and swirling strings that are underlined by percussion. The cue NEL COVO DEL STENGAL is the most prominent use of the composition or at least it is the cue where the composer gives the theme its most fluent and expressive rendition and is heard when SABATA (Lee Van Cleef) and the villain meet for the first time in Stengal’s dining hall. The film itself also integrated the use of musical instruments into the storyline, one of the central characters BANJO (William Berger) is certainly very musical as he is seen performing on a banjo as he walks down the towns main street to face his opponents in a gunfight, as he approaches he plays a jaunty little tune before dropping to the ground to despatch his enemies with a sawn off rifle that is hidden inside the instrument. Then in a different scene he is perfectly at home and proficient playing a church organ. Giombini’s music played an important role as it was not simply a background to the action; it was part of the action and a vital component to the films storyline assisting in its flow and construction. The composer and director were said to have had lengthy discussions about the role of music in the film, these obviously paid off because the score worked wonderfully within the film and also as part of the film and can possibly be compared with Leone and Morricone’s collaboration on the Dollar movies when it comes to the integration of music and the use of musical instruments within a storyline. As in the chiming watch in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and the harmonica in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the instruments being used in the same way. Banjo for instance wears bells on his trousers which can be heard as he walks, Giombini made use of almost sleigh like bells in the full working of Banjo’s theme which were highly effective. The central theme for the score, which I suppose we can refer to as SABATA’S theme accompanies the films main character, this particular theme is the most prominent musical statement on the score, a rather buoyant sounding guitar piece is employed by the composer that is interspersed by a playful sounding muted trumpet solo and occasional light hearted harpsichord flourishes which are all punctuated by a choir and shouts of “EHI AMICO C’E’ SABATA HAI CHIUSOI”. Percussion carry the composition along at pace and provide the films anti hero with a musical accompaniment that is par excellence. The theme returns at various stages of the story, and creates a musical continuity that the audience can easily identify.
The soundtrack also contained a fair dusting of the obligatory saloon piano compositions, but even these are not quite as annoying as they are in other Italian western scores. The composer also provided some slower more romantic and heartfelt pieces that were performed on solo violin and a dramatic piece for organ that has more than a fleeting resemblance to TOCCATA AND FUGUE, the organ piece is heard during an action scene and also is utilised in a scene where Banjo is in a church playing the organ after Sabata has shot dead one of Stengal’s henchman who has been masquerading as a priest. The soundtrack at the time of the films release was requested by many collectors and was eventually issued in Japan plus united artists records released the main theme and also the track BANJO on a 45rpm single. The success and popularity of this movie was clearly evident and the sequels RETURN OF SABATA and THE BOUNTY HUNTERS were released in 1972 and 1973 respectively, the latter having actor Yul Brynner taking on the persona of Sabata, Brynner adding his own personal touch to role. Ironically the reason Brynner was hired was because Lee Van Cleef was unavailable and was busy filming one of the many sequels that was spawned by THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, taking the part of Chris who of course was originally portrayed by Yul Brynner in the original movie.
This compact disc not only contains the score for SABATA but also has the complete recording of THE RETURN OF SABATA, which is equally as entertaining as its predecessor. Giombini on this occasion taking a lighter and at times a more comedic and at times pop influenced approach and including some outstanding choral work by the distinguished IL CANTORI MODERNI and Alessandro Alessandroni, which included gasps, neo classical performances which were underlined by fuzzy sounding electric guitar and jews harp and an array of percussive elements. Giombini’s flair for originality and experimentation with orchestration is certainly suited to the compulsive, unconventional and quirky characteristics of the genre that was cruelly nick named the Spaghetti Western and here we have two fine examples to savour and treasure thanks to Hillside CD production. The score for SABABTA is a reminder of this genre and also stands as testimony to talents of composer Marcello Giombini.
JOHN MANSELL © 2001.