Arrow Video goes spaghetti western with their simultaneous US/UK Region A/B Blu-ray/DVD combo edition of Tonino Valerii's DAY OF ANGER.
For twenty years, brothel orphan Scott (Guiliano Gemma, TENEBRAE) has been an outcast in the peaceful town of Clifton as stable groom, handyman, and toilet cleaner; but he longs to be a gunfighter, having learned the quick-draw from older stable groom Murph (Walter Rilla, THE FACE OF FU MANCHU) who nevertheless assures him that the days of Doc Holliday and the like are long gone. One day, the mysterious Talby (Lee Van Cleef, FOR A FEW DOLLARS OF MORE) rides into town, seemingly with an eye towards trouble as he subtly goads rancher Perkins (Romano Puppo, DEATH RIDES A HORSE) into drawing on him by inviting "shit shoveller" Scott for a drink and killing Perkins in self-defense. It is Scott, however, who gets put in his place by barman Murray (Andrea Bosic, MANHATTAN BABY), the ineffectual sheriff (Nino Nini, THE COLT IS MY LAW), and Judge Cutcher (Lukas Ammann, MARK OF THE DEVIL PART II) himself when he is forced by evidence to acquit Talby. Realizing that he has no future in Clifton, Scott hops on his donkey (jokingly named Sartana after the BLOOD AT SUNDOWN character who would get his own series and spin-offs in 1968) and tracks Talby hoping to learn how to be a gunfighter from him.
With little encouragement from Talby – in the form of "lessons" that usually involve Scott getting knocked on his ass – he follows him to Bowie in search of Wild Jack (Al Mulock, HELLBENDERS) who cheated him on half of the loot from a train robbery of fifty-thousand dollar in gold that he has come to collect. Wild Jack reveals that he only just got out of prison a few days ago, having been double-crossed by his collaborators in Clifton who testified against him and made off with the loot. Talby offers to spare Wild Jack's life in exchange for his stake and the identities of the collaborators: Murray, Judge Cutcher, banker Turner (Ennio Balbo, STAR ODYSSEY), and rancher Bill Farrow. Talby kills Wild Jack when he draws on him, but it is Scott who saves Talby's life when Wild Jack's men get the best of him after knocking off Farrow. Talby and Scott – angered that the people who looked down on him were hypocrites – return to Clifton and use their knowledge of the crime to take over the town as Talby's share. Scott still has some lessons in gunfighting to learn, however, with Murray, Turner, and Cutcher plotting to get rid of Talby, Perkins' family gunning for revenge, and possibly Talby himself when Scott's loyalties become divided between him and Murph.
An Italian/West German co-production, DAY OF ANGER was made at the height of the Spaghetti Western craze and benefits greatly from the presence of Van Cleef and the charm and athleticism of Gemma, handsome production design by Piero Filippone (Sergio Leone's regular designer Carlo Simi is credited here with costumes), and a supporting cast of Spaghetti Western regulars (more so rugged faces than actual performances); yet it does seem rather ordinary compared to the Sergio Leone models in terms of style but perhaps more in line with the more character-driven ones by Sergio Sollima like FACE TO FACE. Talby is a less interesting character than the Man-with-No-Name-esque characters who wreak retribution upon a town of sinners for nobler or at least more mysterious reasons, bullying rather than unnerving his targets (and Scott's gradual disillusion with the character may mirror the audience's disappointment that Van Cleef isn't the usual cool hero or villain from his other westerns). Although Scott has more of a reason to get back at Clifton's elite, his story is more about growth and father figures but he does get to intimidate the sheriff and a few others with his quick draw. The cinematography of Enzo Serafin – who also shot the westerns BEYOND THE LAW and HATE THY NEIGHBOR – is appropriately panoramic but less but less creative than what we have come to expect of the spaghetti westerns post-Leone, and the scoring of Riz Ortolani (VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG) is brassier and less experimental than the usual Morricone effort. The film's female roles are extremely peripheral, from brothel madam Vivian (Yvonne Sanson, THE CONFORMIST) to cabaret singer Gwen (Christa Linder, THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS) to Eileen (Anna Orso, EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000), the judge's daughter who attempts a half-hearted seduction to draw Scott to the dark side.
Previously available to English-speaking audiences in one of the Japanese "Macaroni Western Bible" sets – non-anamorphic transfers of both the American and Italian versions – and a later 16:9 domestic disc from Wild East Productions, DAY OF ANGER gets its best presentation courtesy of Arrow. Their region A/B BD50 actually features two separate 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encodes from the original 2-perf Techniscope negative: the original Italian version (113:51) – featuring both the Italian and English dubs in LPCM 1.0 mono with optional English subtitles for both tracks – and the film's American edit (86:10) with English LPCM 1.0 mono audio and optional English SDH subtitles. Close-ups are nicely detailed and the more saturated colors of the set decoration and costume design pop against the dusty locations and burnished woodwork of the sets. The English tracks feature Van Cleef's voice but the voice actor for Gemma is hard to take seriously (the Italian dubber gives a more somber performance but it does not quite feel boyish enough for the character). The English subtitles for the Italian track reveal a lot more usages of "bastard" towards Scott and also describes his job as "shit shoveller" at one point. Murph is called Murph Allen Short on the English track but "Murphy Allen the Wise" on the Italian.
The American edit loses nearly a half-hour of footage, but the trimming is mostly intelligent during the first half of the film as it loses some transitional scenes, establishing shots, and expository scenes (including ones made redundant by subsequent scenes where the viewer can work out how the intermediary steps). One particularly loss in the American version is Talby's and Scott's return to Clifton and visit to the gun shop, which could be considered a bonding moment but a later scene between Scott and Murph is more effective as the latter points out the differences between Talby's gun and the gun he selected for Scott. Rather than any particular trimmed scenes in the latter half of the film, it is the quickened overall pace that makes the climax seem less momentous thanks to an insufficient build-up. It may play better for viewers who have already seen the longer version.
The disc also includes three video interviews. The first is with director Valerii (10:50) from 2008 conducted by Nocturno's Roberto Curti, in which he discusses the origins of his "Oedipal western" in the story of an arthritic gunfighter "corrupting" a younger man by teaching him to shoot and the act required of him to become a man. He compares Blind Bill (Pepe Calvo who played the wise innkeeper in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) to Tiresias, although Murph seems to be more direct in his warnings. He found the Ron Barker source novel the German producers wanted him to adapt to be impossible, but he and screenwriters Ernesto Gastaldi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) retained some elements so that it could be claimed to be based on the book. Valerii also reveals that he wanted Lou Castel (who had appeared in KILL AND PRAY the same year) for Gemma part, but Castel was too expensive. Screenwriter Gastaldi also contributes an interview (13:04) in which he attributes the story idea to credited co-writer Renzo Genta (JUNGLE HOLOCAUST) with only a few elements from the novel (and suggests the Italian title of the book was "La Morte Galoppa"). He also discusses his friendship with Valerii and the other works he wrote for him (including the Sergio Leone-produced MY NAME IS NOBODY which also had a younger/older pairing in Terence Hill and Henry Fonda).
Curti appears in another longer featurette (34:20) discussing Valerii's childhood – which the director himself compares to CINEMA PARDISO – his cinema education, apprenticeship under director Alessandro Blasetti, work as a film doctor at Jolly Film (acquiring foreign films and preparing them for domestic distribution), and his friendship with Gastaldi. Valerii's work on the post-production of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS lead to him to assisting Leone on FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. He was to assist Spanish director Ricardo Blasco (SWORD OF ZORRO) on a western but the director was fired and the producers asked Valerii to write a script from scratch and direct it. This would end up being his directorial debut A TASTE FOR KILLING with Craig Hill. He reiterates Gastaldi's and Valerii's comments about the latter's second feature DAY OF ANGER while also providing some details on the original treatment and how it differed from the film. He also expands beyond the Oedipal aspects to the subversion of the Ten Commandments to Talby's lessons in violence, and Talby not so much as Oedipus' father so much as the god Cronos who devoured his children rather than be succeeded by them. He also distinguishes the finale from the more cathartic final duels of other spaghetti westerns (particularly those of Leone) with a more despairing interpretation of the ending. He also discusses the stylistic distinctions from that of Leone (including the use of mirrors in the scene rather than shot/counter-shot editing), and how Valerii's directorial style is more classical and less auteurist. He also discusses the film's censorship and its reception, as well as Valerii's subsequent westerns THE PRICE OF POWER – as well as the political bent of a handful of spaghetti westerns of the period – A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE, MY NAME IS NOBODY (made at a time when the genre was charged with being "contaminated by comedy"), and THE HIRED GUN.
The export version of the film reportedly featured some minor editing differences from the Italian cut, but it also included a single exclusive scene (1:18) not in the Italian version. It is yet another scene of Murph warning Scott about trusting Talby and occurs in between Scott exiting the back of the casino and encountering the deputy Cross (Paolo Magalotti, GUNS FOR DOLLARS) and the harmonica player. The disc also includes three theatrical trailers (5:54) for the film: the first is the National General Pictures trailer from the U.S., the second apparently an export trailer with the more appropriate title DAYS OF WRATH (the source is partially cropped), and the third a fullscreen sixty-second National General TV spot. Not supplied for review were the two DVDs in the combo – presumably the Italian and American versions are on different discs but we do not know how the extras are allocated – the reversible cover, or the essay booklet by Spaghetti Western expert Howard Hughes. (Eric Cotenas)
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