Day of Anger Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
Updated: Feb 24
Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is a lowly street cleaner that is relentlessly bullied by the people of the small town of Clifton. When legendarily ruthless master gunfighter Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town, Scott seizes the opportunity to lift himself out of the gutter and possibly even surpass Talby's own skills. But what is Talby doing in Clifton in the first place? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Following the genre-defining success of A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964), Sergio Leone’s second spaghetti western, For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), propelled Lee Van Cleef into an unlikely position as international superstar actor. Van Cleef had been hanging around Hollywood as a grizzled tough guy supporter since the ‘50s, including appearances in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955), and John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Audiences made his second Leone collaboration, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Italian: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966), the biggest hit of his career, but seemed to prefer his earlier turn as Clint Eastwood’s good guy mentor, because he kept being cast in similar master/apprentice roles. 1967 saw the release of two Van Cleef as a mentor/father figure movies, Giulio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da Uomo a Uomo), which paired him with American pretty boy, John Phillip Law, and Tonino Valerii’s Day of Anger (Italian: I Giorni Dell'ira; aka: Gunlaw), which paired him with Italian pretty boy Giuliano Gemma. The two films have so much in common that they’re usually coupled in any kind of critical discussion on the subject and, because Petroni’s film is a shade better (not to mention more commonly seen, due to rights issues landing it in the public domain), Day of Anger is often been overlooked by scholarly and fan establishments.
The key distinction between the films is in the character motivations. In Death Rides a Horse, Van Cleef’s character helps Law’s refine his raw anger into more elegant revenge and helps himself to restitution in the process. Day of Anger (very, very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Ron Barker) is a revenge western variation/combination of Cinderella and Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956) – or, if you prefer, its basis, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913). Scott “Mary,” as he is erroneously dubbed, is a social outcast that is appointed to clean up everyone else’s waste (including literal waste from chamber pots) in exchange for living in their midst. Van Cleef’s Talby plays the story’s Professor Higgins-type, who immediately recognizes Scott’s potential and builds him from a bullied janitor into an ace gunfighter. Except Talby’s intentions aren’t entirely honorable (he expertly murders everyone who stands against him without breaking any obvious laws) and Scott’s real test is whether or not he’ll remain loyal to a mentor who may actually be a blood-thirsty villain. This particular plot point was recycled by David Goyer (knowingly or not) when he wrote Batman Begins (2005).
Neither Death Rides a Horse or Day of Anger were particularly political, beyond the basic metaphors that could be gleaned from the corrupt officials playing power games. This set them more firmly in the pure pulp spaghetti arena. Day of Anger is particularly devoted to recalling older Hollywood western glory, minus the social consciousness of the Zapata westerns and the hyper-stylized appearance of Leone’s work – though it does recycle many of Leone’s supporting actors and Almeria locations. What Valerii lacks in flashy technique, he makes up for with a steady hand and utilitarian skills. He was also one of the best action directors in the business at the time, arguably even better than Sergio Corbucci or Sergio Sollima. The horseback rifle duel is legitimately among the most thrilling and expertly-crafted action sequences in spaghetti history. Day of Anger was only his second shot at western conventions, following A Taste For Killing (aka: Per il Gusto di Uccidere, 1966). Later, he directed The Price of Power (Italian: Il prezzo del potere, 1968), also starring Gemma, and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (Italian: Una Ragione Per Vivere E Una Per Morire; aka: Massacre at Fort Holman, 1972), an epic Civil War version of Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen starring Bud Spencer, Telly Savalas, and James Coburn. Both are bigger than Day of Anger, but neither is as well-balanced in terms of story, character, and action. Valerii was eventually hired by Leone himself to co-direct My Name is Nobody (Italian: Il mio nome è Nessuno) in 1973.
Gemma’s spaghetti western success coincided with Van Cleef’s. He appeared in Duccio Tessari’s A Pistol for Ringo (Italian: Una pistola per Ringo) in 1965, a big hit that, like Corbucci’s Django (1966) and Gianfranco Parolini’s If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (Italian: Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte, 1968), birthed a series of official and unofficial sequels, including The Return of Ringo (Italian: Il ritorno di Ringo, 1965), which re-paired Gemma and Tessari. He also appeared in Corbucci’s final western, The White, the Yellow, and the Black (Italian: Il Bianco, il Giallo, il Nero; aka: Shoot First... Ask Questions Later, 1974) alongside Eli Wallach and Tomas Milian (in yellow-face), Pasquale Squitieri’s Godfather cash-in Corleone (1978), Lucio Fulci’s underrated final western, Silver Saddle (Italian: Sella d'argento; aka: They Died with Their Boots On, 1978), and he is very well remembered as the ill-fated police inspector in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (aka: Tenebre and Unsane, 1982).
Arrow has included both the 95-minute international and 114-minute Italian versions, similar to what Blue Underground and Grindhouse Releasing have done with many of their spaghetti western Blu-rays. I definitely recommend the longer cut, though I don’t think the additional scenes add as much to the story or characters as they do for something like The Big Gundown (Italian: La resa dei conti, 1966) or Bullet for the General (Italian: El Chucho Quién Sabe?, 1966).
Day of Anger was made available on DVD via French and Japanese companies as well as small, bygone boutique label called Wild East Productions here in the states. Of these releases, only France’s Seven 7 release was anamorphic. The first available Blu-ray was from Japan’s TC Entertainment, but it was only 1080i and included the American cut in non-anamorphic SD. Arrow is releasing the first full 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray simultaneously in the UK and US. Their transfer has been fully restored from 35mm Techniscope negatives and looks absolutely fantastic. Details are outrageously sharp from front to back without any notable edge enhancement or halo problems. The textures on the various Almeria sets and locations have never appeared richer or more complex. Grain levels seem natural and maintain consistency without clumping up too much during darker moments. Print damage artifacts are minor and I didn’t notice any of the DNR enhancements that have plagued other Italian genre releases over the past couple of years. The color quality is vibrant and hues are well separated, but the overall palette (skin tones, specifically) might lean a tad too orange for some viewers. I’m not familiar enough with the original material to judge either way in this regard. The specs don’t specify if both the international and Italian versions were taken from original sources, but the image quality appears comparable, so I assume they put together a composite version. I was originally going to compare this disc to my Wild East DVD, but the difference was so vast it isn’t even a contest.
Arrow has included the option to watch the longer cut in either Italian or English (apparently, there was a complete English dub of the Italian version). Both are presented in LPCM 24-bit 1.0 mono. The LPCM 1.0 mono English dub on the shorter international cut is more compressed at 16-bits. Like the vast majority of European westerns, Day of Anger was shot without sound. The international casts were often speaking their own languages at each other, but English is usually the default filming language. Indeed, Giuliano Gemma has said in interviews that they were speaking English (Valarii disputes that claim) and Van Cleef does dub himself, so the English language track is probably ideal. That said, the Italian track does have some advantages in terms of volume. Besides being notably louder than the English one, the incidental effects separation is slightly wider.
Riz Ortolani’s score has found new popularity, thanks to Tarantino using it in both Kill Bill Volume 1 and, more extensively, Django Unchained (it plays over Django’s training montage at the end of the first act). Ortolani’s career in spaghettis was eclipsed by Ennio Morricone’s. However, unlike most other composers working on westerns in a post- Fistful of Dollars world, he always did a good job differentiating his work from Morricone’s, while still maintaining a modern, pseudo rock ‘n roll feel. Day of Anger’s music is sort of a Latin jazz meets classic pulp cowboy mash-up and it sounds very nice on both tracks, though, again, the Italian track is louder.
Archival interviews with director Tonino Valerii (10:50, SD) – This laid back, 2008 interview appears to have been conducted in the director’s living room by his biographer, Roberto Curti. Valerii discusses the film’s themes, the money it made, how little it has in common with the novel, casting (Gemma was not his first choice, but he was popular), filming, and more.
Interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (13:00, HD) – A new discussion with the prolific writer that briefly covers some of his work with Leone, but generally sticks to Day of Anger. He talks about the basic plot, the lack of politics in this particular movie, and recalls a conversation between Leone and Steven Spielberg.
Money, Myths and Mortality (43:30, HD) – An interview/seminar with critic and Valerii biographer Roberto Curti, who starts with the director’s early life and eventually settles into discussing his westerns. The information is good (especially the stuff about Day of Anger’s Oedipal themes), but so much of the interview feels kind of like a college lecture with Curti speaking to camera, interspliced occasionally by still slides and a couple of scenes from Day of Anger.
Deleted scene (1:30, HD)
US trailer, international trailer, and TV spot
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