Monday, April 11, 2016

At Some Point, Both Sides Needed To Start Questioning Their Approach

Sabata has certain difficulties with me that aren't entirely its own fault. Namely that it seems very much like it was trying to take advantage of the popularity of the Sergio Leone films. I guess I should be judging it on its own merits, but it does star Lee van Cleef, and there are certain aspects of the film where it seems like it's trying really hard to be like those movies. There are a lot of shots of people's feet, just holding on them as a character walks, and then pauses, and there's the moment of anticipation whether there's going to be violence. That's not too bad.

But the film also really likes having characters look directly at the camera (and by extension) us, which is really unnerving, and doesn't seem to serve any purpose. I guess they could want to unnerve us by having chunky Judge O'Hara look right at us as he delivers more bad news to the villain (who is not standing where we are, fyi). But then the camera holds on him for a beat after he finishes speaking, and he keeps staring at us, and I don't know what that's about. And it happens throughout the film.

There's also this scene where van Cleef climbs the stairs to his hotel room, while an old acquaintance of his plays his banjo at the bottom of the stairs. And as he plays, the camera yo-yos back and forth between his hands and his face. Which comes off as ridiculous, but they're doing it at the same time that they're adding in shots of van Cleef's feet ascending the stairs. So we're meant to take the scene seriously - like van Cleef might get violent, or he can't take this guy lightly - but Banjo just ends up looking like a doofus. You find out later he's got some skills, but during this scene, the movie seems to be arguing with itself.

The movie feels like it doesn't have enough plot for its 100 minute run time. There's a guy who tried to steal an Army safe, to use the money to buy land the railroad will be going through. Except van Cleef killed the guys and returned the safe, and claims he has evidence to connect this wealthy guy to the crime. Rather than pay van Cleef, he keeps trying to have him killed, and it keeps not working. So the movie settles into this repetitive drag of various failed attempts, which only really serve to make van Cleef increase his extortion demands. But since the guy still won't pay, and it does van Cleef no good to kill him until he does, they're just going in circles. And nobody in the movie is really interesting enough to compensate for that.

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