Sunday, 20 February 2011

Day of Anger (1967)


I giorni dell'ira

With his cold steely eyes, predatory angular features, and icy determinism Lee Van Cleef cuts an apocalyptic swathe through the dust and disharmony of the Euro-Western. Van Cleef possesses an aura and a smile that would have coffin makers rubbing their hands in glee. More than any other actor Van Cleef embodied the feral cynicism of this distinctly European vision of the American west. It is only appropriate that the breakdown in distinctions of good and evil should coalesce around an actor that was adept at playing both roles and everything in between. In the remarkable and quite brilliant Day of Anger Van Cleef is given the opportunity to explore the full range of this territory. His expert gunslinger Frank Talby is slick and ruthless and possessed of a burning intelligence and ambition. Talby represents a kind of justice, but the justice he metes out to the corrupt leaders of Clifton, Arizona is poetic, and not at all motivated by an innate sense of moral justice. In reality Talby is entirely interested in feathering his own nest, making plenty of money, and eventually taking control of Clifton. He does this through a combination of guile, gunfire and blackmail. When Talby takes Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) under his wing early in the film we are deceived into believing Talby is a good man outraged by the disrespect and injustice Scott endures, but this is a spaghetti western and Talby’s motives turn out to be selfish and self serving.

In contrast to the implacable and calculating Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma wears his heart on his sleeve. Every slight and humiliation his character Scott endures his written over his face. We first see Scott on his daily rounds; cleaning out toilets, sweeping floors, having the fact that he is fatherless rubbed continuously in his face. Certain members of the Clifton community delight in reminding him of his bastard status and treat him like the shit he collects in his buckets every morning. Gemma is the emotional core of this film, and he brings with him an energy and athleticism that would serve him well in numerous spaghetti westerns. Talby is the only character to show him kindness and respect (in fact Talby shoots a man dead for objecting to Scott drinking with him in the saloon) and soon after Day of Anger takes on the familiar theme of the teacher/student relationship. The material is handled differently because of Scott’s childish naivety. Talby delivers harsh lessons, which includes allowing a scumbag to beat Scott to a pulp. But beneath an idiotic and comedic exterior Scott is filing away every lesson. There is a tension here because Talby is not a conventional teacher. Instead of offering a lesson or piece of advice to avoid a mistake, Talby delights in watching Scott make his errors, before offering his precious pearls of wisdom. Even at moments of intense gratitude there is the sense that this is a friendship based on mutual convenience, and when one of them becomes inconvenient it will soon be dissolved.

When Talby begins blackmailing his way to control of Clifton, Scott is allowed his opportunity to return some of the vitriol he experienced. His skill with a gun makes him an exceptional member of the community, and grudging respect is afforded him because of his ability to draw fast and kill those who threaten Talby’s bids for dominion. The ultimate lesson that Scott learns is that he is nothing without a gun, the moment a spectre of death and violence clings to him his standing in the community increases. Only those without the power to make life and death decisions are exploited in this world. One of the highlights of the film is the arrival of a mysterious assassin who challenges Talby to a duel on horseback with front loading rifles. This moment of operatic excess is directed sublimely by Tonino Valerii whose use of the close, medium, and long shot in this set piece is alongside anything achieved in Sergio Leone’s westerns. Talby is never less than sadistic when dealing with those that threaten his plans. Perhaps the most shocking example is when he leaves the corrupt owner of a saloon to perish in a fire, only to then build a new saloon on the ashes of the old one.

The relationship between Scott and Talby never reaches that of surrogate father and son. Talby’s best laid plans are undone by a series of errors made due to his own vanity and his own greed for power and material gain. The film is clear in its statement about the corrupting nature of power, even those who are innocent are dragged into its whirlpool of deceit and skulduggery. It is inevitable that Talby and Scott will face each other in a duel, and what makes Day of Anger particularly intriguing is that the outcome of this standoff is not predictable or assured. This Italian/West German co-production was shot in the arid climes of Spain and DOP Enzo Serafin captures the stifling heat and unremitting brutality of the choking landscape in a way which shows the negative effects such a bleak backdrop could have on the minds of men. This wouldn’t be a great spaghetti western if it didn’t have an awesome soundtrack, and Riz Ortolani is on hand to provide one of the best scores of his career. Day of Anger remains in the perplexing position of a distribution limbo (it was legitimately released on DVD in 2002, but has since been deleted) and this is a travesty that needs addressing because Valerii’s film is among the twenty best spaghetti westerns ever released.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. This is one of my all time favorite SW's and is also on my 'Best Of' list if I ever get around to posting it.

    Giuliano Gemma was and still is a huge star in Italy. He was as big as Eastwood was over there. His A PISTOL FOR RINGO (and its sequel) were massive successes during their releases and are highly recommended. Gemma was the real deal, too. He could do a lot of tricks with the gun and was very fast. I think there's a youtube video of him doing a demo backed by Morricone's radio hit title theme. He's currently enjoying a career as a sculptor. An Italian friend of mine sent me one of the programs and one of his sculptures is, of course, a cowboy. Gemma was blessed with getting some damn fine scripts for the most part. I've yet to see a Gemma western that I'd say was a bad movie. Great write up, Shaun as always.

  2. Thanks for dropping by Brian. I have to confess I'm not at all familiar with the output of Giuliano Gemma, so I really do appreciate the backround information you provided. I also believe he was an acrobat? It seems very few of his SW's are legitimately available on copy of DAY OF ANGER was a DVD-R ripped from another source. Along with THE GREAT SILENCE and DJANGO KILL...IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! this is one of my favourites.

  3. Most, if not all his movies are legitimately available, but in other countries such as Germany, Japan and his native Italy. I have a good number of them, myself. DVD's from Japan are the most expensive on the planet (the average price is $50.00US), but it was the only place I was able to locate English friendly versions for some of Gemma's movies. The German DVD's are more reasonably priced and the Italian discs rarely, if ever come with English audio. It's truly a crime that virtually NONE of his movies have made it America in legit versions. The Wild East DVD's are the best looking alternatives, but these aren't official releases. Yes, he was an acrobat and got his first big notice in sword and sandal adventures such as MY SON, THE HERO and GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON to name two. He also featured prominently in lesser efforts such as TWO GLADIATORS and HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN.

  4. By the way the review I have up for A PISTOL FOR RINGO comes from the English friendly German DVD which is still in print. The also have RETURN OF RINGO and SILVER SADDLE (directed by Fulci) available.

    The review I have for ARIZONA COLT, which is often cited as 'RINGO 3', is from the Italian DVD, which has zero English options. Wild East released this in a PD version from the American release titled THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, great main theme, too. There's a Japanese DVD that looks much better under the original title. The recent Italian disc blows them all out of the water, though in terms of image quality.

  5. You're much more clued up on DVD distribution matters than I Brian. From the information above I have already totally ruled out going down the Japanese route. I believe the copy I have is sourced from a Wild East release, and while the picture and audio quality was fine, I found the letterboxing an irritation because lines and murky colours appear in it from time to time. I shall check out your review for A PISTOL FOR RINGO shortly. How about that incredible duel on horseback Brian? I'm not sure who the actor is who plays the bounty hunter sent to eliminate Talby, but I thought he had a great beard!

  6. I haven't seen the movie in a few years, but I do remember the "jousting with rifles" scene. Not sure about the actor, though. I'd have to look at the movie again.

    Incidentally, the Ortolani score, the main theme, anyways, made its way into a lot of independent kung fu movies, which fit perfectly in my opinion.

  7. Greg Stuart Smith6 August 2011 at 02:02


    Glad you and Brian liked this gem as much as I did. What a great film. The Wild East version I recently rented had an interview included with Gemma where he (in Italian with English subtitles) talks about the "jousting with rifles" scene. I can't remember all he said, but I know he said that the actor with that amazing beard you spoke of, was a true weapons and combat expert; I got the feeling he did weapons and stunt work as well as just act.

    Anyway, I like how his assassin character at one point saves Talby from a would-be assassin, the very mark he was hired to kill, just so he can collect the bounty and do the job (i.e. kill Talby) himself... and in a joust with muzzle loading rifles no less!!! The CLOSE UP of Van Cleef with the musket-ball clamped between his teeth is the absolute best! Somehow, he even manages to scowl, erasing any doubt you might have about who's going to win this, the West's most bizarre duel!

    Anyway, the script really worked for me, too. I thought it was an extremely well written screenplay, expertly realized by Valerii (who co-wrote it, come to find out -- it's hard to tell when the credits are in Italian!) and his cast of players. Scott Mary's arc really works, and you feel for him, as you watch Talby play him for a fool, exploiting his youth and speed with a gun. Ah, but in the end, the teacher becomes the student and the student the teacher. Though Scott Mary ultimately renounces Talby's lessons, he's learned them well indeed.

    I particularly love the bit at the end where he unapologetically shoots one of Talby's men in the back! They certainly weren't making them like this in America...

  8. Thanks for stopping by Greg, I really enjoyed reading your enthusiastic views on this excellent western. The bearded assassin, his behaviour, and eventual fate, is the coolest part of the film in my view. Thanks for the extra information. I do have the same Wild East disc, but I have yet to make use of the supplementary materials. I agree with all that you say, and would also like to mention again Riz Ortolani's fabulous music.

  9. Greg Stuart Smith10 August 2011 at 09:33

    "The bearded assassin!" Oh God, how I love it! Here I am in the U.S., and you, there you are in the U.K., both of us digging on that guy's awesome beard! If I could unzip myself and be someone else for a day, it's be THAT guy: the "bearded assassin" with the muzzle loading rifles from DAY OF ANGER!!! Even ole Lee Van Cleef wouldn't be able to stop me!

    ... well, maybe he would. Yep, he would. I'd be toast. Spell that: T.O.A.S.T. Toast!!!

    Anyhow, you're right when you call this film "excellent," because it is indeed that. Again, I loved the story. It was as dark as any noir, minus the trace image of anything female even remotely resembling a genuine femme fatale. No sex even. No skin either. In this instance it works, though, since you sort of get the feeling Scott Mary is still a virgin at the end of the film. Funny that, now that I think of it. You'd think they'd make that a part of his arc: popping his cherry. Maybe it's in there. The hookers do seem to like him. But I'm on a tangent.

    In short, a great western. And yes, I loved the score. Very simple, yet, just as effective as any I've ever heard. It fits the film perfectly.

    God, now I'm fantasizing about being the bearded assassin again!!!

  10. Now how about trying to grow a beard like our mutual hero from this film? Obtaining muzzle loading rifles might be tricky, but I think the beard is a possibility.


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