AKA GIORNI DELL ‘IRA, GUNLAW
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: Now, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 104 min/ 86 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Scott is a young man working as a street sweeper in a small town called Clifton. Scott is looked down upon by the other townspeople, and he has never known his father and only knows his mother’s first name was Mary. When gunfighter Frank Talby rides into town and kills one of Scott’s bullies, Scott realizes the opportunity to change his life, and decides to prove his worth to him. Talby soon leaves town to go after Wild Jack, his former associate who owes him 50,000 dollars. Scott follows him and Frank reluctantly lets him tag along and agrees to teach him a few rules about gunfighting….
The great Sergio Leone once said, in response to being called the Godfather of the Italian Western: “If so, then how many sons of bitches have I spawned”. There is no doubt that Leone defined the genre, but the work of the two lesser known Sergios, Corbucci and Sollima, is sometimes just as good and plenty of other filmmakers also made strong films in this genre, which seems to generally get much more respect from critics and movie lovers these days than it did when the films first came out and, despite their popularity, were generally sniffed at by reviewers as being trashy rip-offs of the American western. The best known spaghetti western to come from Tonino Valerii is probably the Leone-produced My Name Is Nobody, which I reviewed on here some time ago. I like the film a lot, and it’s very entertaining, but it’s also something of a mess. Day Of Anger though is something else, a very focused, tight production which definitely makes me want to seek out the other westerns this director made. It’s very well made, extremely suspenseful and contains literally loads of shootouts while maintaining a certain degree of psychological complexity and developing its plot and its characters with a fair amount of care.
It was Valerii’s second film, as well as his second spaghetti western, following 1966’s Taste for Killing. The credits claim the screenplay is based on a novel called Der Tod Ritt Dienstags by Ron Barker, but the origins of the story actually lie with a boy called Renzo Genta who had an idea about a gunfighter whose increasing arthritis in his hands causes him to take on a boy as an apprentice and maybe more. However, because the proposed film was going to be a co-production with Germany, there had to be some German input, and as no Germans were in the cast or crew, it was decided this novel had to be the basis of the plot and credited, though screenwriters Ernesto Galstaldi and Valerii only used some of the second half of a book concerning the takeover of a town. They wanted Lou Castel to play Scott, and he would have been better, but the producers wanted Giuliano Gemma as he was a huge star in Italy at the time. Day Of Anger was a major hit in Italy, though, as was often the case with these films, it was cut down for its export release, losing 18 minutes, though oddly enough containing one scene [a good one too, strengthening one particular character] not in the Italian version. I only watched the longer Italian version in full for this review, but some flicking forward on the ‘international version’ seemed to indicate that it’s more parts of scenes rather than whole scenes that were cut, plus the odd scene just seemed to be slightly edited differently.
The opening credits immediately get one into the mood with the usual 60’s pop-art style images of the main stars, people galloping around on horses, those amazing spaghetti western gunshot noises and a fantastically catchy theme from Riz Ortolani which is almost as memorable as the great Ennio Morricone western themes. The film then takes a short while introducing us to its ‘hero’, a man who is constantly bullied by the others in his town. Scott was apparently taken in as a baby by the local brothel keeper and never knew his father or mother. He’s barely allowed anywhere, not even into the brothel, doesn’t have a fixed abode, and his only friends are a stable keeper and a blind tramp. It’s not long though he sees Frank Talby, in a great entrance, riding slowly down the main street. Frank’s a dangerous gunfighter who has often killed, but he’s courteous to Scott, who brings him into the saloon where he’s not really allowed. The first confrontation occurs when some of the other folk in the bar object to Scott drinking in there, and Frank shoots one of them down. Rather unusually for a western, the next scene shows Frank in court because of this. Frank ends up taking Scott under his wing, and the real fun begins when Frank begins to teach Scott gunfighting, or even life, lessons, usually through action, though Frank is also out on a quest to get back some money, and this quest leads him back to Clifton.
There are quite a few spaghetti westerns which deal with a master/pupil relationship which eventually turns sour and may even end in a confrontation, so the basic story of his film held few surprises for me and it’s devoid of the political commentary which was making its way, however small, into many spaghetti westerns of the time, but it’s done with a reasonable amount of logic and mostly avoids presenting characters as being all black or all white. Frank initially seems very cool, and has some very likeable traits such as being against the mistreatment of animals. He also has some great lines such as:
“They haven’t invented the gun yet that is going to kill me.”
“He was born a wolf, but you made him rabid”.
However, his killing becomes very excessive and you soon just want this guy to stop, though eventually Scott seems on the verge of becoming just like him. When the climax occurs, it’s predictable what happens, but nonetheless there is a genuine sense of corruption and tragedy.
Now this may make out Day Of Anger to be heavy going and it most certainly isn’t. While it mostly avoids bloodshed except for two beatings, the final two thirds are absolutely packed with shootouts, often verging on the ridiculous like a horse duel where the combatants have to load their rifles as they ride. Some of the moves, like throwing a gun in the air, diving to avoid the opponent’s bullet before catching the gun and shooting it, would be difficult for even Chow Yun Fat to accomplish, and you also get to see a broom shot to bits without injuring the person holding it, though generally there’s very little humour. While not really a major stylist like Leone, Valerii does handle all the action extremely well and elsewhere gives us some interesting framing, like Scott and Frank framed by the closing doors of the saloon, and expert positioning of characters to give a feeling of depth.
The Leone lover in me enjoyed seeing some familiar sets, locations and even actors [Pepe Culvo, the bar owner in A Fistful Of Dollars, is given a similar but slightly more mysterious role here as the tramp who seems to know more than he ever lets on], though the immensely detailed main town set is one of the best of its era. The film looks classy and even quite high budgeted, though it’s let down a little by still seeming, despite me viewing this longer version, somewhat truncated [the two main female characters, who seem on the verge of getting involved with Scott, suffer especially badly here and may as well not have even been in the film], Gemma just not being convincing as a person torn between good and bad, and the extremely repetitious score hardily ever deviating from its main theme. Never mind, the awesome Van Cleef, able to speak volumes with just a stare or a sneer [and sporting pearly white teeth throughout] and dominating the screen even when doing nothing, is on top form here as a bad guy who can’t help but like. While not quite a masterpiece of its genre, Day Of Anger contains much to enjoy and appreciate for spaghetti western fans.
I’m now going to devote a whole paragraph to extolling the virtues of Arrow’s Blu-ray, which is easily the best representation of a pre-1980 film on the format I have ever seen. The company is beginning to release films in the US as well as the UK, and with two markets to sell to mow have the funds and the resources enabling them to create new masters from scratch. If Day Of Anger is anything to go by, then this was certainly a worthwhile decision. Honestly, the film looks incredible, and no, I’m not paid by Arrow and will say if I think a transfer is disappointing. It’s astoundingly clean, sharp and to my eyes totally free of things like edge enhancement, softness or excessive de-graining which generally can’t help be present in Blu-rays of older movies. Hell, even the close-ups looks amazing. You would really think this restoration was the work of a major studio, and of a far more recent film. Bravo to Arrow, and if this is just the beginning, than movie lovers are going to be for lots of treats.
* Brand new restoration from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of both versions of the film: the original Italian theatrical release, and the shortened version that was screened internationally
* Original uncompressed mono audio, with English or Italian soundtracks on the longer cut and an English soundtrack on the shorter one
* Newly translated English subtitles for Italian audio and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for English audio
* Brand new interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
* Brand new interview with Tonino Valerii’s biographer Roberto Curti
* Previously unreleased 2008 interview with Tonino Valerii
* Deleted scene
* Theatrical trailers
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist
* Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Howard Hughes (author of Spaghetti Westerns), illustrated with original poster designs