One of numerous unofficial Sartana sequels, Sartana in the Valley of Death establishes a penchant for eccentric digressions right from the opening scene. A rolling stagecoach brings a smooth gunfighter into town. Having been established as a prominent character he is immediately shot dead in a saloon standoff with black-clad outlaw Lee Calloway (William Berger), who bears the Sartana mantle despite sharing little in common with the spectral avenger beyond their dress sense. After killing an old partner-turned-respectable bank manager (and who wouldn’t want to shoot their bank manager?) to collect a $25,000 debt, Lee narrowly escapes a heavily armed posse then agrees to spring the Craig brothers out of jail in return for fifty percent of the gold they stole from the United States army. Jason (Wayde Preston), Pete (Aldo Berti) and Willy Craig claim the gold has been hidden by their youngest brother Slim (Rick Boyd), whom Jason worries has gotten cosy with his girlfriend Juanita (Jolanda Modio).
After murdering Paco (Luciano Pigozzi) the toymaker who turned them over to the sheriff, the outlaw brothers turn the tables on Lee and leave him strapped to a table with a stick of dynamite stuck between his legs. He is rescued by Paco’s daughter Carmencita (Josiane Marie Tanzilli), but rather callously abandons her to a lonely fate and rides away in pursuit of revenge.
This spaghetti western oddity offers a rare heroic role for perennial smirking bad guy William Berger, who performed such duties in the very first Sartana movie: If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968). Berger’s supposed hero shares many of the same qualities as the villains he played, being smug (he doubles the reward money on his own wanted poster), mercenary and self-serving. Writer-director Roberto Mauri crafts a film that is episodic and vague. Mauri was one of those Italian exploitation movie mainstays who dabbled in any genre that was popular: spy flicks, peplum (sword and sandal) movies and naturally westerns, including bogus sequels to other spaghetti hits like Wanted Sabata (1970) and Django… Adios! (1972). His more notable works include the costume adventure Ivanhoe the Norman Swordsman (1972), the sexploitation horror Madeleine: Study of a Nightmare (1974), and the outrageous The Porno Killers (1980) wherein sexy female assassins essentially shag villains to death.
Handsome photography belies the almost casually amoral tone with the focus largely on callous, violent outlaws who sweep innocent folks aside. At one point Jason even shoves little brother Willy into the path of an oncoming bullet. There is little to engage our sympathies beyond Lee’s quest for money. Mauri loses sight of the already shaky plot and dwells on weird detours like the scene where everybody ogles a guitar-strumming, leggy blonde (Betsy Bell) who seems lost in her own private reverie, and a lengthy sequence which finds Lee trapped in the titular valley. Here the villains taunt him by pulling funny faces, throw sand at him and pretend to keel over dead when he shoots back. Frankly, they’re a childish bunch. As for Lee, unlike the real Sartana, he triumphs more through luck than guile. In fact, as Pete laments Lee has luck in abundance. He is rescued from the desert by a glamorous lady ranch owner (Pamela Tudor) who keeps him as her sex toy (though the morning after tries to collect the reward on his head), while it’s a handy scorpion and an ironic twist that finally win him the day.
The climactic shootout carries no emotional weight, though Mauri imparts a winning surreal tone with cutaways to a dancing doll. And there is a vaguely callous edge to the closing shot as Lee rides smirking past Jason’s oft-mentioned (yet curiously never seen) girlfriend Juanita and their little son.