Videophiled: ‘Day of Anger’

DayofAnger
Arrow

Day of Anger (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray, DVD) is another reminder of why Lee Van Cleef became a major spaghetti western star. He doesn’t just dominate Day of Anger (1967), he owns the film as a Frank Talby, a smiling gunman who rides into the thoroughly corrupt town of Clifton, Arizona (which, of course, is actually Almería, Spain) to collect a debt and ends up adopting the Scott (Giuliano Gemma), turning the town bastard and whipping boy into a formidable gunman in five hard lessons (all helpfully numbered). Van Cleef is smooth and cool, at once ruthless and oddly likable, and Talby’s tough-love affection for Scott is beyond the call of manipulation. Next to the utterly corrupt folks who don’t even bother to hide their arrogance and bigotry, Talby is almost honest about his criminality. He wants his money, he wants to run the town, and he wants vengeance against the hypocrites who double-crossed him.

Which is not to say he’s a hero in any sense, merely that he has a kind of honor missing from the crooked town elders who built their power on his stolen money. Talby never draws first, but he has a way of provoking others into trying their luck so he can remove them from his path in self-defense. Which is not to say he shies from a fair fight. When the bad folks of Clifton hire a mercenary to take out Talby, he agrees to the gunman’s terms: a shoot-out as frontier duel on horseback, loading the gun and shooting at full gallop. It’s a fabulous scene and Van Cleef instills in Talby a sense of honor as he matches a rival on equal terms. When he successfully takes over the town of Clifton, burning down the old saloon and building his own gambling palace (complete with pillars carved into giant handguns) as his headquarters, it’s almost comic when the ousted town leaders moan “Now Clifton will never go back to the way it was,” as if their malevolent rule was some kind of paradise for the peasants, the drunks, and the outcasts they kept in their place. Giuliano Gemma has quite the baby face as Scott and the voice in the English dubbing is all young cowhand aw-shucks innocence. You might say the film is about his evolution from hero-worshipping boy to responsible man forced to choose a side.

It’s ostensibly based on a German novel but director and co-writer Tonino Valerii admits that it was merely a matter of co-production financing and his script spun a new story around the basic premise. Which, in the spaghetti western tradition, is in many ways about the corruption behind the myth of the old west. Valerii was an assistant to Sergio Leone on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More and directed the Leone-produced My Name is Nobody. This hasn’t the operatic flamboyance of Leone but it has a more complex portrait of power and corruption and an ambivalence toward loyalty and justice. There’s no sense of triumph in vengeance here, merely inevitability.

Lee Van Cleef

The film has been digitally restored for Blu-ray and DVD from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative. I’m sure it hasn’t looked this good since it was released. Valerii favors the spare visuals of most spaghetti westerns, emphasizing the isolation and emptiness of the Spanish plains standing in for the American southwest, and the disc presents it all with a sharp clarity and vivid burnished palette. It features the original, uncut Italian version (with both English and Italian soundtracks, with optional subtitles) and the shorter international version (in English only).

It features new video interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (13 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles) and Tonino Valerii’s biographer Roberto Curti (43 minutes, in English) and a previously unreleased 2008 interview with Tonino Valerii (11 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles), plus a deleted scene, and includes a booklet with an essay by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes.

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