When UK-based Arrow Video finally decided to launch in North America this year, it picked a trio of excellent films to kick off what’s going to be a wild run of classics and desired library additions. As all three films arrived at the same time, I had to flip a coin to choose which one to review first and Tonino Valerii’s magnificent 1967 spaghetti western Day of Anger (I giorni dell’ira) won the review draw.
This was one of those genre films I’d heard about for years but have never seen until this beautifully restored (from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative) version and it’s very highly recommended whether or not you’re a western fan. Excellent performances all around, some stirring set pieces, excellent art direction and cinematography all wrapped up with a superb Riz Ortolani score that will stick in your head for days makes this one a must-see (and must buy if you’re a collector).
Poor Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma)is seen as the lowest of the low in the small town of Clifton, Arizona. His bastard status means everyone in town save for a handful of people treat him like crap and in fact, his sole job is cleaning out the town’s waste buckets for a few coins each. Scott gets a sudden savior in the form of Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef), an aging but still very efficient at killing gunfighter who rides into Clifton and for some reason zeroes in on Scott as a sort of potential tutor for his deadly talents.
The two men form a bizarre bond that has Talby teaching Scott assorted “lessons” that usually have the poor kid getting nearly killed a few times before the day’s moral is revealed. As the men grow closer, Talby’s true motives are revealed and his later outrageous actions drive a wedge between the pair than can only be resolved with a climactic shootout.
That’s the plot in a nutshell, but thanks to co-writers Ernesto Gastaldi and Renzo Genta (who worked on the script with Valerii) the film does an excellent job of spinning a compelling tale of revenge and betrayal. As Scott and Talby aid each other through the film’s first portion, we see that the younger man’s desire for self confidence and better gun fighting skills is what leads him to follow Talby around through each painful lesson. However, Talby’s confrontational manner usually ends up with someone getting an extra dose of lead in their diet or expiring by other violent means. Despite some of the deaths being self-defense, Scott finds himself shocked by some of Talby’s hair-trigger actions even as the pair take over Clifton as the film progresses.
(thanks, The Spaghetti Western Database!)
Of course, the opposition isn’t going down without a fight, so there are some attempts made on Talby’s life that don’t go exactly as planned. The best of these is a thrilling horseback duel where Talby and his assassin need to load and fire single shot rifles while blazing towards each other. Is this even possible in real life at that speed? I have not a clue, but it’s an amazing sequence that creatively outdoes many longer modern film duels even to this day. By the last section of the film, where Talby has gone quite power mad and does something that sets Scott out to take down his former teacher and friend, you can figure out how it all ends quite easily. That said, by this point in the film you aren’t getting up to do anything because you want to see what happens. The payoff is worth it just because it’s not as much a fist-pumping “yeah” moment as it is one where you see what happens when a madman has his way too long and no “off” switch or moral compass to set him somewhat straighter.
The film’s art direction, sets and costumes are all great and while I’d guess some of the budget was spent on hiring Lee Van Cleef to star, you can’t not love the whorehouse in Clifton with its pistol columns, red paint scheme and all sorts of interesting art. The ladies aren’t hard on the eyes either, but you’re probably not watching this for those bits. The violence here is stylized western stuff of the era featuring bright red blood and nothing overly violent for the squeamish other than a brief shot of a hanged man that may be a tiny bit off-putting. Valerii’s camera finds itself in some excellent spots during the gun play including a great shot between a character’s legs as Talby puts a bullet in a downed man reaching for his pistol.
Day of Anger comes in two versions on the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. You get the original Italian version (117 minutes in Italian with subtitles or dubbed in English) and the shorter US version (97 minutes, also known as Day of Wrath). The longer version is obviously the better of the two, but it’s great to watch the chopped down by about 30 minutes US cut just to see what the US distributor considered important enough to keep. While both films are fundamentally the same, it’s clear that the original cut is superior and makes more narrative sense. Both these Blu-Ray versions are in HD, while the two DVD’s are SD format. There are some great special features here that include a minute long outtake that made me wonder if if was the ONLY scene cut from the film plus three interviews (screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, Tonino Valerii’s biographer Roberto Curti and a previously unreleased 2008 interview with Valerii). You’ll also get a few trailers for the film that are a great excuse to sink that snappy Orzotani score even deeper into your brain.
As the review version received was Blu-Ray only, I can’t say a peep about the booklet featuring new writing on the film by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes, illustrated with original archive stills, the reversible cover art or quality of the SD image on the DVD’s. That said, given the stunning quality of the Blu-Ray image and overall restoration job, I can’t see Arrow screwing any of that other stuff up at all. In other words, *BOOM* and out of the park for this release right into your own collection, I say. Day of Anger rolls in as a great opening shot for Arrow Video and MVD Visual with more hits to come as the year rolls onward.