A large hoard of army money has been locked away in the bank vault of the town of Daugherty, but it's not going to stay there for long. Despite being heavily guarded, there are villains conducting an assault on the building, making swift work of the soldiers and tearing off the bars and steel door of the vault with the help of a few horses. With the safe in their hands, they take off, but they have reckoned without the sense of justice of one man who has recently rode into town. He is Sabata (Lee Van Cleef), and he also has money on his mind...
As does everyone in the film. Scripted by Renato Izzo and director Gianfranco Parolini (or "Frank Kramer" as he's called in English language prints), Sabata sailed close to being too jokey for its own good, but the general over the top atmosphere translated into a sense of humour that didn't quite eclipse the suspense. As a result the film is fondly recalled by many, and while it might not take itself entirely seriously, as you can see by Sabata's first scenes, it pulls through where it counts, and that's in the action sequences.
In those early scenes we are under no illusions that our hero is anything other than superhuman when it comes to gunfighting. His accuracy is such that he can shoot a chair leg out from a foe to cause his face to plonk straight into his soup, or flick a coin into a mechanical piano's slot to get it to play, and all without changing his self-amused expression. This being Van Cleef we're dealing with, we should not be surprised, but nevertheless he carries himself with such style that we can't help but admire him.
Which is just as well, because there are only about three or four other decent characters in the film, and even they fall into the "loveable rogue" category, like Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla under his Pedro Sanchez alias), a rotund Mexican who follows Sabata around like a knife-flinging puppy. Someone who appears to be in that category too is Banjo (William Berger with ill-advised ginger hair), who as his name suggests carries a banjo with him, although it doubles as a rifle. When Sabata reclaims the stolen money, he asks for a small reward, but as Banjo realises the corruption of the town's governors is not going to go unpunished by the resourceful gunman.
The head governor is Stengel (Franco Ressel), who is pretty handy with a gun himself and prefers to spend his time reading about how inequality is the basis of every society, not realising as Sabata does that money can be a great leveller. As a strangely effete villain, Stengel is surrounded by more macho types, but naturally they're no match for the sly protagonist who hones in on their duplicity - it is the leaders of the town who staged the robbery to pay the railroad - and uses it against them. There's a danger that the story can grow repetitive as time and again an assassin is sent after Sabata only for him to bump them off before they have a chance to do likewise to him, but the gleeful mood is infectious. Nothing heavy then, but very enjoyable all the same - well, apart from the frequent and unnecessary twanging of a ruler on the soundtrack: couldn't composer Marcello Giombini have come up with something better?