Day of Anger (1967) – By Roger Carpenter

 

Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is a lowly errand boy who completes the lowliest of tasks in the dusty town of Clifton. When first introduced in the very opening of the film, Scott is dumping the night’s chamber pots and sweeping the local whorehouse’s porch. He is a weakling, taken advantage of and abused at every street corner. No one is interested in treating this poor son of a whore, who doesn’t even know his father, humanely. He subsists by completing the meanest of chores and living in the meanest of stables.

Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) is a veteran gunslinger out for revenge. It seems he was cheated out of a $50,000 payday by some of the locals of Clifton and he’s coming back for his money. When he meets Scott, he develops a soft spot for the young man. Scott convinces Talby to teach him the gun slinging trade and proves to be a very quick—and very good—pupil.

The two men, teacher and student, make their way to Clifton where Talby quickly begins terrorizing and blackmailing his erstwhile “partners” while Scott, full of pride at his transformation and anger at his treatment, metes out his own punishments to the residents of Clifton.

Directed by Tonino Valerii, a generally overlooked director of Italian genre features, remembered mostly for his classic spaghetti western “My Name is Nobody,” Day of Anger is an Oedipal tragedy played out by Gemma who, having already appeared in over a dozen features, was poised on the brink of stardom and Lee Van Cleef, himself a genuine star in Italy for his roles in For a Few Dollars More, The Big Gundown, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Van Cleef co-stars as Gemma’s father figure who, after ignoring his foster son’s warning not to kill a friend, must face the consequences of his decision.

While Scott is played up as the hero, he is problematic as a protagonist at the least. Van Cleef is certainly evil as he shoots, bribes, blackmails, and burns his way through the town’s most prominent citizens in his bid to not only retrieve his stolen money, but to avenge his treatment with a total takeover of Clifton. Thanks to his bloodthirsty lack of morals, he succeeds in doing just this. However, Scott isn’t much better. Always dreaming of being a gunfighter, he allows his developing prowess to go to his head and metes out his own revenge on the citizens of Clifton. For their part, Clifton’s citizens certainly deserve punishment for their treatment of Scott, but cold-blooded murder isn’t necessarily the best solution. In a way, Scott’s blindly arrogant retaliation against the people who mistreated him is even scarier than the downright sociopathic murders committed by Talby. As deadly as Talby is, his vengeance is purposeful and aimed directly for distinct townsfolk while Scott’s vengeance is exacted a bit more indiscriminately. In the end, it takes a retired gunfighter—and one of the few people who treated Scott with any humanity—to teach Scott his final gun slinging lesson and open his eyes as to the true nature of Talby, thereby setting in motion a day of anger.

As if Gemma’s and Van Cleef’s starring roles weren’t enough, director Valerii also hired several crew members who, if not already famous for their roles in Italian genre pictures, certainly would become famous in later decades. Ernesto Gastaldi wrote the final script based upon an original story brought to Valerii. Gastaldi was a prolific screenwriter who worked in many different genres, producing scripts for some of the best-known spaghetti westerns (The Grand Duel, My Name is Nobody), poliziotteschis (The Violent Professionals, Kidnap Syndicate, Almost Human), and giallii (Torso, The Sweet Body of Deborah, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, The Case of the Bloody Iris, The Whip and the Body, among many others). And, if you love Italian trash cinema, then who can forget The Great Alligator and Concorde Affaire ’79? Gastaldi even did uncredited screenwriting work on the great Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.

While the writing is strong, Valerii also helped the film by hiring the great composer Riz Ortolani. With well over 200 films to his name, he is perhaps most famous to American genre fans as the genius behind the highly effective score for the infamous Cannibal Holocaust. Here he delivers a very effective score, catchy enough to be humming hours after seeing the film. The great Giannetto De Rossi, who helmed the special effects for some of Italy’s most beloved horror films (Fulci’s Zombie, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery along with Cannibal Apocalypse and The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, among many others) contributed to the handful of bloody effects on display in the film. While not nearly as gruesome as many of his effects in later decades, nonetheless, they are effective. And only the most astute and fanatic cinephiles will perhaps notice the great Paul Naschy as an uncredited extra. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him!

With this kind of “star power,” it’s no surprise that Day of Anger was a runaway hit in 1967. Along with strong writing, great music, and wonderful acting, the lighting is also of note, particularly in several nighttime scenes lit with beautifully weird colors reminiscent of Mario Bava’s best work.

Day of Anger is an impressive spaghetti western with a unique storyline that any fan of the genre will appreciate. Arrow has put out an impressive blu-ray that contains both the longer Italian cut of the film as well as the shorter international cut. Each version comes with optional Italian and English tracks. The film itself is beautifully preserved and is crisp and clean. Extras include a short 2008 interview with Valerii, a short interview with Gastaldi, and an informative 43-minute interview with Valerii’s biographer, Roberto Curti, who goes into more depth about Valerii’s development as a director, his style, and the film itself. There are also several English-language trailers included as well as a deleted scene, another example of the beautiful nighttime lighting on display in Day of Anger. Finally, there is a nice booklet featuring spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes.

This is an exceptional package that will guarantee fans several hours of enjoyment. For more information, see Arrow Video’s website at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa