The Film: 4/5
In the town of Clifton, lowly street cleaner Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is viewed by the richer citizens as just as dirty and disgusting as the filth he picks up off of the ground for a living. One day, a stranger named Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) comes riding down Clifton's dusty streets. He takes an instant liking to Scott and treats him like a friend and equal, much to the displeasure of the townspeople. When Talby proves himself to be a dangerous man in a gunfight, Scott pleads to become his partner and pupil. Talby agrees once he witnesses Scott's modest proficiency with a firearm. Scott joins up with the aging gunslinger just in time to back him up when Talby goes looking for Wild Jack (Al Mulock), an old comrade who owes Talby a nice little chunk of change. He doesn't have the money, but after an armed confrontation that naturally doesn't end well for Jack, Talby comes away with a share of a saloon in Clifton and the means to take over the entire town. He quickly eliminates any potential competition with the help of Scott, but the younger man comes to realize that Talby is far from the man he thought his mentor was and has no choice but to apply his vastly improved gunfighting skills and the lessons he learned from Talby to restore order in Clifton.
Before becoming a director, Tonino Valerii made his bones in the Italian film industry as a jack-of-all-trades for the legendary Sergio Leone: he worked uncredited on the Fistful of Dollars script and directed second unit on For a Few Dollars More, among other things. In 1966 he made his move behind the camera to direct the unremarkable western A Taste for Killing (Per il gusto di uccidere), but the following year Valerii broke through with one of the defining films of his career, Day of Anger (I giorni dell'ira). He secured the services of Lee Van Cleef, the American character actor with memorably rat-like facial features who had become a movie star in Italy in Leone's epic Dollars trilogy, to play his lead and based the script he co-wrote with Ernesto Gastaldi (2019: After the Fall of New York) and Renzo Genta (Jungle Holocaust) on Ron Barker's novel Der tod Ritt Dienstags.
In their hands, the book becomes a thunderous, blood-drenched morality play about the responsibility of authority and control and how violence can be used to easily attain power. Valerii's direction lacks the operatic flourishes and full embrace of the widescreen frame that helped to define his mentor's visual style, but his tendency to favor a look that enhances the dramatic tension and allows his actors room and time to develop their performances and chemistry with one another helps to make Day of Anger distinguishable from the average Leone knock-off, aided immeasurably by Enzo Serafin's cinematography. The music score by Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust) is one of the finest he ever composed, with a powerful main theme that plays like a big band orchestration of Ennio Morricone's best western soundtracks and was memorable enough to be included in Quentin Tarantino's 2012 homage to the Italian westerns he grew up admiring, Django Unchained.
Lee Van Cleef is the star of this film and Valerii cleverly cast him as a man who enters the story as the deadly but well-intentioned gunfighter from For a Few Dollars More and Sergio Sollima's The Big Gundown but ends as the serpentine killer Angel Eyes of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Van Cleef's smooth, confident performance enables the character shift to be viewed as the natural procession of Talby's arc, instead of being dictated by a lack of consistency in the screenplay. He is well-matched by Giuliano Gemma (The Leopard), convincingly cast as the humble street cleaner who becomes Talby's willing pupil and unwitting accomplish in the older man's plot to take over the corrupted town of Clifton. Scott's growth from lowly public servant into experienced gunfighter and keeper of the peace is given considerable heft by Gemma's sympathetic performance. Spaghetti western character actor Al Mulock (Once Upon a Time in the West) impresses with his burning blue eyes and intense delivery during his few scenes. Walter Rilla (The Scarlet Pimpernel) is quite good as Scott's other mentor and the only father figure he ever really needed. Van Cleef's stunt double Romano Puppo gets to pull double duty as a big-mouthed bully who has a violent encounter with Talby in a saloon not long after the gunman arrives in Clifton. Christa Linder (Hooper), Yvonne Sanson (The Conformist), and Anna Orso (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) are here to provide a feminine presence in a predominantly male environment, but as expected they don't much to do.
Next to Grindhouse Releasing's pristine transfer of The Big Gundown, the 1080p high-definition restoration of Day of Anger by Arrow Video is the best home video presentation of an Italian western I have ever seen. According to the booklet included with this release, Arrow scanned the original 2-perf Techniscope 35mm camera negative in 2k resolution and graded it on the Nucoda system. Digital restoration tools were used to remove thousands of traces of dirt, debris, and light scratches. The results are superb. This is by far one of the best transfers Arrow Video has prepared to date. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and practically each frame has been meticulously restored to the condition it must have appeared in during its initial theatrical run. The presentation is positively crystalline and sports improved texture, an appropriate amount of grain to maintain the filmic appearance of the print, and colors that resonate well without distracting from the other visuals. Every bead of sweat, each drop of stage blood, the detailed clarity is remarkable.
The English and Italian PCM 1.0 mono soundtracks were transferred from the original optical tracks in Rome and restored in London. Due to the fact that the materials used for the restoration were not in the best shape, some slight instances of soundtrack damage remain, and on occasion the audio will appear out of sync. This is likely due to Day of Anger, like most Italian film productions, having all of its dialogue dubbed in post-production. The Italian soundtrack features music and sound effects mixes that are pitched modestly higher in volume than on the English track and dialogue that can often sound muffled. The English audio track is a much cleaner and spacious overall mix with balanced volume levels. Plus the infrequent crackle or pop is to be expected and doesn't detract from your enjoyment of the film. English subtitles have also been provided.
Kicking off the generous supplements package provided by Arrow is an interview with director Valerii (11 minutes) conducted in 2008 in which he discusses the genesis of Day of Anger, the production, and its ultimate reception. Adapting the Barker novel into script form and working with the inexperienced director is among the topics screenwriter Gastaldi delves into a more recent interview (13 minutes). Both interviews are presented in Italian with English subtitles. Film critic Roberto Curti talks about Day of Anger as well as other features Valerii directed in the lengthiest extra on this disc, "Money, Myths, and Morality" (43 minutes), which is in accented English. A deleted scene (2 minutes) not seen in either the Italian or international cuts of the film is included here in high-definition with the English dub track. The disc-based extras conclude with U.S. and international theatrical trailers and a U.S. television spot (6 minutes). Arrow has also thrown in a reversible cover sleeve featuring the original American release poster art (which I prefer) and a newly commissioned image created by Reinhard Kleist, as well as a collector's booklet that includes two essays about the making of Day of Anger and its filming locations by author Howard Hughes (Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns), stills from the film, and information about the transfer. Lastly, we have two DVDs featuring standard-definition presentations of both cuts of Day of Anger and all of the accompanying extras you can find on the single Blu-ray disc.
Do you need another reason why should buy Arrow Video's outstanding Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release of Day of Anger? Try this on for size: Quentin Tarantino, a filmmaker who has paid homage to spaghetti westerns in his movies more than any other director alive, recently ranked Valerii's underrated morality play of blood and bullets in the seventh spot on his list of the twenty best Italian oaters he has ever seen. That's a higher ranking than Navajo Joe, Death Rides a Horse, The Grand Duel, the aforementioned The Big Gundown, and The freakin' Great Silence. Personally I would put Silence in my top five, but Day of Anger is right on its ass. It's that good of a film. Sergio Leone may have been the undisputed king of the Italian westerns, but on the basis of Day of Anger, Tonino Valerii was one hell of a pretender to the throne. The good people at Arrow apparently feel the same way because they have treated his greatest achievement as a director to a first-rate restoration with great extra features. For fans of the genre, this release is highly recommended.