A Spaghetti Western by Italian director Tonino Valeri that is a blast from beginning to end.
Spaghetti westerns seem to be a genre that I ever only scratch the surface of. Of course I’ve watched the staples as well as some of the more obscure stuff, but I am no expert on the genre. When Arrow video re-released Day of Anger in a special edition earlier in 2015 an article that I read compelled me to seek it out as soon as I could.
And man am I glad that I did.
Day of Anger is what I consider to be original Spaghetti western film making. Director Tonino Valeri tells the story of a town nobody turned gunman with the help of an aged outlaw (the great Lee Van Cleef) looking to collect on a job gone wrong from years past.
From the beginning guns blaze with exposition scattered throughout the story in a way that keeps the action going while enjoying the body count that racks up by the minute. The young western film veteran Giuliano Gemma plays the young Scott Mary, the lowest of the low in the town of Clifton, Arizona. He’s the town shit man and is treated as such by all the members of the community constantly reminded that he is the bastard son of a whore and treated like garbage. When a stranger rolls into town, he treats Scott with a little respect and as a result is glommed on by the young man. After a brutal assault at the hands of the men of the community, Scott runs away to join the strange man known as Frank Talby in an attempt to escape his awful life and become a gunman.
Reluctantly, Talby takes Scott on as a “student”, teaching him lessons along the way as he hunts down the men responsible for a job gone wrong that involved a substantial amount of gold. The path to Talby’s fortune takes him back to Clifton with a newly upgraded Scott in tow. Finally Scott has the swagger in him to handle the townsfolk that did him wrong, and he takes full advantage of it, threatening and intimidating those who degraded him.
Using false confessions of his prior associates, Talby seeks out the upper crust of Clifton who were accomplices in the job and blackmails them into getting a foot hold in the town and taking back what he feels is his. The two are constantly challenged by hired guns and local cattle ranchers seeking to take Talby out, and a brutal trail of blood is left behind. The action builds up to a head and Scott is forced to decide if the life of a gunman can overtake his personal morals.
Lee Van Cleef is great as always in the film as the outlaw Talby. Always known for his roles as the bad guy, this movie is no different except in a few respects. In the first two acts we root for him as he takes Scott along and teaches him to be a great and cunning gunfighter. We’re on his side when confronted by bandits and the vindictive townsfolk of Clifton. But it’s that third act that Van Cleef’s classic bad guy persona shines and we get his classic baddy in full force.
As Scott Mary, Giuliano Gemma plays a vulnerable young man turned angry gunfighter. Throughout the story, his beliefs conflict the cold blooded lifestyle that he is attempting to adopt. During a shootout, he begs Talby to spare the life of the wounded opponents, but Talby teaches him the lesson “If you wound a man, make sure you kill him or sooner or later he’s gonna kill you.” just as he fires the fatal shot. This rattle Scott to the core and pushes him further toward the life of a gunfighter.
A lot of the westerns that I’ve seen spend a majority of the film on exposition and scatter smaller fights throughout the first two acts, saving the big gunfights for the third. Day of Anger is one series of action and gunfights throughout that keep the movie running hard and never dragging in the dirt. Arrow video’s release of the film is a two disc set including two versions of the film; the international version with a running time of only 83 minutes and the Italian version which pushes the two hour mark. Many key scenes are removed from the international version making the plot pretty threadbare. The set also includes interviews and deleted scenes across the two discs.
If you haven’t already seen this classic Spaghetti western, I highly recommend that you seek it out.. It’s a blast from start to finish and an excellent performance from both Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma.