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Arrow Video continues to release choice genre attractions from the past, in highly desirable presentations. We know that the video shelves of hardcore spaghetti western fans are packed with multiple copies of favorites, in search of a really satisfying release. This core title has just about everything a fan would want.
Although Day of Anger didn't reach the United States until late in 1969, it was one of the first group of westerns to capitalize on the iconic presence of Lee Van Cleef after the instant success of For a Few Dollars More. By 1967, when the first Sergio Leone western hit American shores, Van Cleef had become an established European sensation, with Death Rides a Horse, The Big Gundown and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly already doing good business. Never a particularly gifted actor, the hawk-faced Van Cleef had spent fifteen years in bit parts, mostly getting gunned down by big stars from Gary Cooper to John Wayne. Now suddenly he was as big an attraction as any of them. And way off in a country where he didn't even speak the language. It all must have been like a dream.
Sergio Leone picked Van Cleef for his looks, but possibly also because his quiet menace wouldn't overshadow his new star Clint Eastwood. The truth be told, in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly the great actor Eli Wallach wipes Van Cleef off the screen, and often reduces Eastwood to stand-and-watch straight man status. In each of his non-Leone star vehicles, Van Cleef is paired with a younger star, for both general youth appeal and romantic interest -- who wants to see Van Cleef with his clothes off? After John Phillip Law and Tomas Milian we finally get Giuliano Gemma, a blonde kid with an employment history in several sword 'n' sandal pix (like My Son, the Hero) but also reasonable bits in the big attractions (Ben Hur, The Leopard). His spaghetti western debut in A Pistol for Ringo (great Morricone music) and its sequel was muted somewhat by the adoption of an unfortunate new name, Montgomery
Written mostly by veteran Ernesto Gastaldi, the script for Day of Anger does a slightly nastier Italo riff on the "older gunfighter schools younger punk" American western idea, of which Anthony Mann's The Tin Star is a good generic example. The difference is that Van Cleef is no kindly Henry Fonda, helping an unproven Anthony Perkins learn how to be a man, win a girl and wear a badge.
The mysterious Frank Talby (Van Cleef) rides into Clifton, and soon adopts as his sidekick the local lickspittle, whoreson Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma). Fully grown but considered unworthy of any decent job, Scott does all the dirty work in town, including circulate the honey bucket that constitutes the civic sewer system. An upstanding citizen beats Scott just for daring to talk to his daughter. Talby coldly guns down one of the locals persecuting Scott, which encourages the boy to join him against the advice of Murph (Walter Rilla), a stable keeper who was once a noted gunfighter. Talby tracks down Wild Jack (Al Mulock), who should be holding a huge sum for him. Talby instead discovers that the money was stolen by a some unscrupulous crooks -- that just happen to be the leading citizens of Clifton. Finding that Scott is already a good shot, Talby properly outfits him and schools him in gunslinger etiquette. They return to Clifton, where Talby uses his leverage, and his gun, to assume total control. Even Scott can see that his mentor is getting out of hand... and only Murph understands what needs to be done.
Day of Anger has a serviceable story and okay characterizations; it gains by allowing Lee Van Cleef's character to go through an interesting metamorphosis. He begins as a standard gunman of mystery and proceeds into the 'teacher' role for the callow Scott. This comes complete with numbered rules for staying alive as a gunfighter, each presented as another semi-humorous lesson: "Never get between a gun and its target." (#3) "The right bullet at the right time. (#6) Talby's killings of course carry the requisite Italo cynicism, but applied to American models: father-son sharpshooting lessons, etc. In the American form, the violent hero's goal is to reclaim the peace for decent folk. As Clifton is run by underhanded crooks, there's really no underlying decency for anyone to uphold. When the 'good' father Murph finally presents Scott with a specially altered pistol, we're not sure what values will be restored once Talby is neutralized.
Director Tonino Valerii is no better or worse than the scores of directors that tried to build on Sergio Leone's example. Some had something to say, often a radical political message. Others had a knack for violent outrage. Not a one of them produced movies that gave us new sensations or advanced the genre as had Leone. The maestro's dynamic visuals and use of music brought out the operatic ritual aspect of the American model. The follow-ups often mastered the details -- complex action, strong personalities -- but mostly just rode the spaghetti wave until it burned out in the early '70s.
Valerii has the benefit of a good cinematographer, but with the exception of giving Van Cleef good poses and close-ups only sporadically does anything interesting with the camera. Whether in America or Italy, I suspect that not enough credit is given to the world-class cameramen that provide the formal beauty we admire in westerns: even Sam Peckinpah's westerns are hit and miss without the great Lucien Ballard. For the fans this is probably enough, but we're too often noticing that the sets are locations in Rome and Almería re-used from the Dollars films. The excellent costumes are by Carlo Simi.
Riz Ortolani's bouncy main theme is a favorite non-Morricone cue, and it gets a lot of use throughout the show (as well as a position of honor in Quentin Tarantino's much later Django Unchained). I rate Day of Anger behind Sergio Sollima's The Big Gundown but ahead of Van Cleef's other non-Leone pictures. More dedicated Italo western fans will consider it solid gold, and won't miss the opportunity of seeing Old Snake Eyes put through his paces once again.
Arrow Video's Region A+B Blu-ray + DVD of Day of Anger is an excellent transfer of this brightly photographed Techniscope feature. First off, it is one of three new Arrow releases aimed directly at the U.S. buyer. The show is encoded in both Region A and Region B, so no multi-region player is required. Just be careful -- if you see a bargain copy from the 'other' region, be advised that the accompanying DVD will be in the wrong format, PAL or NTSC. Blu-rays, bless 'em are the same format worldwide.
Arrow has gone the extra furlong to present the film in as many ways as it can. The long Italian cut is present, either in Italian with removable English subs, or in the original English dub track. 1 The much shorter American cut is present, but only with its English audio. Arrow determined that the shorter export version did have an extra scene not in the Italian original. That's presented as a 2-minute Deleted Scene. It's an extra dialogue exchange between Scott Mary and Murph.
Two key interviews are included. Director Valerii is friendly and fairly modest. Like most Italo directors he seems capable of talking 'til dawn without a break. Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi is of personal interest, as his name appears on two out of three of my Italo genre films, especially horror favorites. The Italian original of his L'amante del vampiro is actually wickedly funny, and his The Horrible Dr. Hichcock and La frusta e il corpo are classics. Both Valerii and Gastaldi talk about their other collaboration My Name is Nobody. Critic Reinhard Kleist follows up with a more academic, nuts 'n' bolts breakdown of Day of Anger's appeal.
Reinhard Kleist's artwork adorns the cover and also the colorful booklet supervised by Michael Brooke. Howard Hughes' booklet essays discuss the cast members and detail some of the film's locations. Yep, we were right about those settings straight from the Dollars pictures. Three different trailers are included as well.
Let's hope that Arrow's entrance into the Wild West of the U.S. market will spur them on to equally lavish releases of more sought after Euro-genre greats.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. Many, many fans prefer the English dubs, I suppose because that's how they remember them from grindhouse screenings. And of course they carry Van Cleef's original English voice, which is a big plus. For this
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