Day of Anger is a mentoring spaghetti western, a film where a lowly man is bolstered by an older gunfighter as he learns the ropes and eventually overcomes his tutor. In 1967, it wasn’t a new concept for the genre of film – in fact, tutor films became something of a staple for the spaghetti western, dealing with the politics of small-town life and the intricacies of aging with a bounty on your head – but Day of Anger took two stars and pitted them against each other after their relationship spoils over money. It became a highly-praised film, one of Tonino Valerii’s most important movies besides A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! and My Name is Nobody, and it also helped fuel star Giuliano Gemma’s career.
You may have seen Day of Anger under another name, and potentially a different version of the film. Besides its Italian title, I giorni dell’ira, it’s also gone by Days of Wrath, Gunlaw, and Blood and Grit. These incarnations have slightly altered versions as well, and Arrow Video has graciously included three different versions on this 2-disc set: the longer, uncut versions either in English or Italian with English subtitles, and the International version, which features a significantly truncated edition of Day of Anger cutting about 20 minutes of footage. The version I screened was the longer edition.
Valerii begins things by centering around the beaten-down Scott, a bastard living in the town of Clifton working as the lowest member of the caste system. He cleans out the toilets, he sweeps the rich people’s porches, and he works at the saloon doing whatever labor they need. In short, the people feel like they can boss him around because he’s the son of a whore, and his life is a loop that’s only slightly bettered by his guntoting tutor Murph (Walter Rilla).
That is, until the mysterious Talby (Lee Van Cleef) strides into town, a gunslinger if ever there was one. Scott recognizes that he can follow this man to get power, elevating himself above the rest of the townspeople despite his bastard status, and after Talby kills a man in the saloon, he sets out through the desert to follow him. The rest is a fairly standard partnership between Talby and Scott, both of them feeling each other out; Scott trusts too much, and Talby’s lessons show the kind of ordeals he’s had to go through in his past to get to his current position. He’s one of the fastest gunslingers around, but that doesn’t mean people are looking to put him in a casket.
Valerii utilizes the first half of the film to set up the relationship between Scott and Talby, and it’s a fun, somewhat lighthearted progression. Talby teaches lessons, like “Never trust anyone” or “When you wound a man, you better put them down,” while going about the business that brought him to Clifton in the first place, and Scott learns – quickly – how to become just like Talby. Along the way, Valerii introduces a number of unsavory characters that get in Talby’s way; he is a wanted man, after all, and Talby’s attempts to get his money back from the town of Clifton are met with all kinds of opposition.
Day of Anger has slow plotting, though, and it often goes long periods of time without any sort of confrontation. Valerii’s direction often jumps back and forth between objectives; sometimes it’s about teaching Scott, sometimes it’s about Talby dealing with his latest conflict as he attempts to buy up the town of Clifton. The film doesn’t handle both exceedingly well, and it often struggles to find the right pacing because of a lack of substance. The longer runtime in the extended edition of Day of Anger is a bit overdrawn, with Valerii trying to get the most of the interactions between Scott and Talby. Van Cleef and Gemma have good chemistry – if that’s what you want to call Talby’s gruff, somewhat careless demeanor – but it’s difficult to believe that Scott could learn so many gun tricks from Talby in such a short amount of time.
There’s one scene in particular that shows the carelessness of character development. Scott has just finished shooting a group of men sent to kill Talby, and he’s sitting in the same saloon he used to have to clean. Before, he was a scared kid in his first shoot-out; after, he’s a guy who can shoot a broom into tiny little pieces. Scott’s progression is too fast to believe, but that’s because his tutelage is unseen; we don’t really see Talby giving him gun lessons, and it’s not enough for Day of Anger to tell the audience that Scott learned all of his tricks from Murph.
A minor quibble about Scott aside, the rest of the film lacks a consistent flow. There are some strange narrative choices toward the end of the film that force the viewer to question the plotting. Most questionable is Talby’s double-crossing of Scott and Murph. Though it’s foreshadowed earlier in the film when Murph warns Scott that he’ll probably have to draw on Talby at some point, the idea that Talby would actually want to take Scott out is questionable. For the most part, he’s a loyal sidekick, and there’s no sign that Scott will suddenly turn on Talby without a good reason. That Talby engineers this final showdown feels forced by Valerii, a conclusive gun battle that unfortunately doesn’t have the tension of Sergio Leone’s.
Still, Day of Anger is one of the better spaghetti westerns I’ve seen. Valerii certainly recognizes the beauty and the intense desolation of the desert, and he uses those wide views to his advantage. There are a few notable, entertaining scenes unique to the film, too; a musket battle on horseback where Talby loads the gun with his mouth and a horse-dragging are two crazy events that keep the film from stagnating. Day of Anger has a penchant for violence as well, at least when it’s necessary, with the final scene punctuating the new difference in skill between Talby and Scott with a bullet to the head.
Day of Anger is a film that will certainly appeal to die-hard spaghetti western fans, but those with passing interest in the genre would probably do best to leave this one. Despite that, it remains a popular film for reasons unknown to this reviewer; there are better mentor spaghetti westerns than this, and Valerii’s other films are more deserving of the praise. Keep in mind I did review the longer cut, because the shorter one probably edits out some of the unnecessary moments.
Arrow has done a great job restoring Day of Anger; the colors, especially, really pop. As I stated before, this is a 2-disc set; the first disc contains the full uncut version with either English or Italian audio, and the second disc has the International version with most of the special features.
Included on the first disc is one deleted scene, which is basically an elongated version of another moment where Murph warns Scott of Talby’s mischievous ways. Also on this disc are theatrical trailers.
The second disc has three interviews. The first is with Tonino Valerii, director of Day of Anger, and he gets into the specifics behind the film. This one’s from 2008, but it was previously unreleased. Next is a 13-minute interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, talking about Day of Anger and some of the other films he worked on with Valerii. Lastly, a 45-minute interview with critic Roberto Curti is included; the first 10 minutes or so mostly focus on Valerii’s filmography, but the last half hour gets into the mythological aspects of Day of Anger and the importance of characters like the blind man. I don’t necessarily agree with his consensus, but it’s a good watch all the same.
A booklet also comes with this disc, a surprisingly-detailed 26-page full-color pamphlet with a couple different essays from writer Howard Hughes. One goes into significant detail about both Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma, documenting their roles in various Westerns and the most prominent films in their pedigree. Another essay, again from Hughes, discusses the shooting sets of the film. Both essays are essential reading before or after watching the film.
Also helpfully included is a detailed guide to the restoration process from Arrow Video. It’s nice to see a documented list of the hard work Arrow has put into the restoration; it makes the viewer appreciate the process even more.