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DVD SAVANT

Day of Anger


Day of Anger
Wild East
1967 / Colour / 2.35 flat letterbox / 111 min. / I Giorni dell'Ira
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Al Mulock, Lukas Ammann, Walter Rilla, Pepe Calvo, Yvonne Sanson, Christa Linder, Andrea Bosic, Benito Stefanelli
Cinematography Enzo Serafin
Art Direction Piero Filippone
Film Editor Franco Fraticelli
Original Music Riz Ortolani
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, Tonino Valerii & Renzo Genta, based on the novel Der Tod Ritt Dienstags by Ron Barker
Produced by Enrico Chrosciky & Alfonso Sansone
Directed by Tonino Valerii

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Over the course of the last couple of years, New York's Wild East Productions have been quietly putting together their very own Spaghetti Western DVD collection. Volume 1 was A Fistful of Trailers, a varied but fun selection of some of the genre's good, bad and ugly theatrical trailers, while volume 2 was a fairly reasonable transfer of Giuseppe Colizzi's final Terence Hill and Bud Spencer adventure, Boot Hill. Volume 3, Tonino Valerii's Day of Anger, finds the company upping the ante somewhat as they move into full-blown film restoration and self-produced extras territory.

Synopsis:

An ageing gunfighter, Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef), rides into the quiet town of Clifton. He strikes up a casual friendship with the town's bullied street sweeper-cum-refuse collector, Scott (Giuliano Gemma), and winds up shooting one of the young man's tormentors. When Talby moves on to track down Wild Jack (Al Mulock), a former partner who is holding $50,000 for him, Scott, fearing for his own safety and dreaming of escape and adventure, decides to follow him. When Talby finds Wild Jack, he is informed that his money was lost years ago when Jack was double-crossed by some criminal associates, all of whom are now living as seemingly respectable citizens in Clifton. Scott proves to be helpful when Wild Jack's gang turn nasty so Talby agrees to adopt him as his gun-fighting apprentice. The pair return to Clifton, with Talby intent on getting his money back and Scott intent on getting a little respect from those who had previously made his life a misery.

Tonino Valerii was the assistant director on Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More but Day of Anger, his second film, finds him largely resisting any temptation to overtly mimic the style of his erstwhile mentor. Valerii's efforts to keep his camera men busy result in some fluid camera moves and some well staged multi-angled set ups that are just a little reminiscent of Leone's approach, but Leone's genre-defining traits, like extreme close-ups, held shots, silent protracted stand-offs, etc, are, for the most part, played down here. The action (and there's plenty of it) is fast and furious and it's all generally well staged. Valerii had a penchant for utilizing reflected images in mirrors and this film boasts some well composed shots where this technique is rather neatly applied. All in all, Valerii's approach here is good, if naturally unflashy, and is only really marred by a couple of sequences where the framing looks just a little rushed.

In some ways, Day of Anger's story and presentation plays a little like a classic American Western and the film more than holds its own when compared to any US genre product. It's kind of like the film that Lee Van Cleef could have conceivably made ten years earlier if anybody in Hollywood had had the guts to give him a lead role in a big Western. Carlo Simi's costume designs also point predominantly in the direction of the American Western and the film even features a mythical pistol that is reputed to have previously belonged to Doc Holliday. That said, Day of Anger proudly displays some Spaghetti Western credentials too. In keeping with Leone's example, the costumes used here not only look authentic, they also look really lived in (a detail that few American Western producers ever cottoned on to). And Clifton's pious authority figures are all eventually revealed to be duplicitous crooks. The superb and fantastically boisterous soundtrack, by Riz Ortolani, is a suitably wild, and typically rousing, trumpet and electric guitar-driven affair. Also present and correct are several familiar faces from Leone's Dollars Trilogy and a whole host of equally familiar interior sets and exterior locations. Valerii appears to have consciously shot some of the more obviously familiar buildings from unfamiliar angles in an attempt to give them a fresher feel.

Rather untypically, the film's content makes a concerted effort to demystify the incredible gunplay and shooting abilities of the West's best gunslingers: like magicians unveiling the secrets behind their impressive party tricks, both Talby and Murph reveal to Scott the specialist knowledge and intricate mechanics inherent to their personally tried and tested gun-fighting techniques. The film also contains several pointed (Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven-style) observations about the reality and horrific impact of such gunplay: early on, Scott is mortified when Talby casually shoots one of Clifton's bully boys and he is even more aghast and traumatized when Talby....(spoiler)....moves in to coolly finish off a wounded Wild Jack....(spoiler ends). When Scott himself kills a harmonica-playing deputy (during an impressively lit night time sequence) he responds to Talby's calls for a celebration by lamenting, "his songs were sad but he knew how to play. He won't play any more. I don't think this is a night to celebrate." It's fairly typical of some of the great dialogue present here. And, for all their tightly honed skills and fancy tricks, Valerii doesn't present Talby, Scott or Murph as invincible supermen. They remain just as vulnerable as everybody else: all three of them catch a bullet or two along the way and Valerii employs the use of some good special effects to add further impact to these action scenes.

Talby is a great character for Van Cleef, who turns in a confident, and in places quite chilling, performance. He reveals a real talent for silently employing subtle changes in his facial expression to successfully communicate Talby's feelings and thoughts. When we first meet Talby he appears to be a fairly typical Spaghetti Western anti-hero but as the film progresses his true character is revealed. When he returns to Clifton to retrieve his money from the crooked town elders (banker, judge and saloon owner) it looks like some High Plains Drifter-style retribution is going to kick in. However, we soon learn that there is nothing particularly moral about Talby's intentions: he's actually the type of callous, bona fide bad guy that Van Cleef specialized in portraying in the 1950s and he's going to use the leverage that he has gained to take control of the entire town.

Giuliano Gemma, already an established Spaghetti Western star thanks to his appearances in Duccio Tessari's popular A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo, comes across well as Scott, managing to successfully emote feelings of hurt, frustration and confusion. Continually reminded in no uncertain terms that he is the illegitimate son of a prostitute, not a day goes by without somebody in Clifton bullying, belittling or abusing him. His only friends are other marginalized characters like Murph (Walter Rilla), an elderly ex-sheriff turned stable-hand, and Bill (Pepe Calvo), a simple-minded tramp. Scott and company live and sleep in a stable that also contains the cesspit that holds the town's effluence. And Clifton boasts the kind of two-tiered and hypocritical social set-up that allows the town's usually strict anti-gunplay citizens to find much humour in Bill getting a backside full of buckshot for simply dirtying some empty bottles left outside of the saloon. Consequently, it's little wonder that Scott is initially happy to see Talby giving his former tormentors a hard time. It's just some much needed and timely rough justice as far as Scott is concerned. But old Murph remains a stoic defender of the law at heart and when he straps on a gun and signs up as Sheriff, Scott finds his loyalties to the two father figures in his life pulling in opposing directions.

The film features a strong supporting cast and they are utilized to good effect in some nice set pieces. Al Mulock is great as Wild Jack, a thoroughly vicious and nasty bad guy who literally smashes his way straight through Scott's new-found sense of bravado. Genre fans will recall Mulock as the vengeful bounty hunter who was dispatched by a bathing Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He also partnered Jack Elam and Woody Strode in the opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in the West. Benito Stefanelli's hired killer, Owen, sports the most uniquely shaped beard ever to appear in a Western. Owen is Day of Anger's most Spaghetti Western-like character: he initially saves Talby's life because he wants to profit from killing Talby himself, but instead of provoking a Leone-style face-off he challenges Talby to a horseback duel-cum-joust using muzzle-loading, percussion cap rifles! It's riveting stuff. The marvellous Pepe Calvo, Silvanito from A Fistful of Dollars, is almost unrecognizable as Bill but he provides a suitably sympathetic performance.

The film also features one of the most unforced and naturally staged sexy-saloon-singer routines ever to grace a Western. And special mention must be made of art director Piero Filippone's fairly flamboyant efforts which imbue parts of the film with a faint air of baroque campiness: the presentation of Talby's stylish and opulent night-spot is particularly impressive, boasting a grand stage area that would suit Dr Phibes and his Clockwork Wizards perfectly.


For most English speaking genre fans, this film has only ever existed as a scrappy, pan and scan home video feature that had been haphazardly cut down to 82 minutes or less. So it's full marks to Wild East for obtaining a virtually pristine digital master of the full (111 minutes) film. For a flat presentation, the picture quality is pretty much excellent and the film's colours are particularly impressive. Against the odds, Wild East have also managed to track down the English language dialogue tracks for the scenes that were previously missing from the edited versions of the film. The sound quality and the accuracy of the lip-syncing fluctuates a little whenever these audio restorations kick in but that's hardly a major problem.

PAL viewers taking advantage of the disc's Region 0 encoding have reported a touch of "motion blur" due to the disc's NTSC based format. I noticed a little of this during some camera pans but didn't really find it a problem: this presumably will not affect domestic (NTSC) viewers? Likewise, some PAL viewers have found that some PAL machines have a little difficulty playing chapter 15 of the disc while domestic (NTSC) machines play the chapter just fine. I found that the picture became pixelated for around two minutes of chapter 15. A fix of some kind is reported to be being investigated for those PAL viewers affected.

Beyond the restoration of the film itself, Wild East have also put together some nice extras. The recent interview with Giuliano Gemma is fun and finds the actor in enthusiastic form. The fascinating Almeria Then and Now featurette boasts a fine selection of Donald S. Bruce's recent photographs of locations that appear in the film.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Day of Anger rates:
Movie: Very Good +
Video: Excellent -
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Interview with Giuliano Gemma, US & international trailers, Italian language audio track, Almeria Then and Now featurette, four page booklet, picture gallery, biography & Euro-Western filmography for Lee Van Cleef, Euro-Western filmography for Giuliano Gemma, isolated music track and alternate title sequences.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 23, 2002


Lee Broughton's overview of The Spaghetti Western Genre is a popular Savant article that's well worth checking out.




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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