Day of Anger
directed by onino Valerii
starring Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma
Arrow Films / MVD Video
The age of Western has faded, but they remain some of the finest films made. And while most of the significant came from the Hollywood machine, for a decade or in the 1960’s the Italians did just as good a job. Shooting with stripped down dialog and not-always-convincing sets in the Andalusian desert, they employed Italian tax credits, European style and a mix of imported and home grown actors. Day of Anger (released as I Giorni Dell’ira and in English as Gunlaw) may be the pinnacle of the class, and this Blu-ray reissue makes it sharper than the original print. Young Scott (Giuliano Gemma) empty chamber pots and picks up trash in frontier town Clinton. He’s the bottom of society in this dusty valley and suffers the abuse from everyone in town until a mysterious gunfighter named Talby (Lee Van Cleef) arrives. Talby is a loner, he’s been at this game for a while but arthritis and fear are setting in. He joined in a robbery that was hijacked by the movers and shakers of Clinton, and he’s back looking for cash and vengeance. He takes on Scott as an apprentice and mentors him in death. Beyond this the plot is a bit convoluted but ultimately unimportant, this is a story about a man passing in skills, a young man finding his place and some specular gunfights in a morally ambiguous world.
Van Cleef is tough and cool; he eventually teaches Scott the 10 rules of gun fighting. (Number 10 is “When you start killing, you can’t stop.”) This film is always engaging and full of brilliant visuals. The highlight is a duel with front loading rifles on horseback at a full gallop; Van Cleef and his antagonist load powder, tamp it, load a ball, tamp it, install flints, and then fire at point blank range. If ever there was as harder way to kill a man, it was invented by a Bond Villain. The sets are fun, a huge revolver hold up the entrance to Van Cleef’s bar and inside a jazz trio sounds like its 1950’s Paris. In a dive bar there’s only a board on a rock for service and anything other than tequila is too high class. Scott is the man who grows emotionally, he changes from a lovable loser to a creepy killer; his simple need for acceptance turns to avarice and vengeance and in the climactic scene, he does the unthinkable. But that’s Rule 9: “There are times when you have to accept a challenge or lose everything there is in life anyway.” Oh, they even have a gun control scene, but these fussy rules don’t save any lives; this is Wild West and you couldn’t have it any other way.
Along with the film you get an intriguing directors commentary as well as interviews (subtitles) with the writer and director. Unlike so many relics of mid-century cinema, this film is engrossing, well-paced by today’s standards, and carries a moral ambiguity that punches you in the gut and send you through the saloon doors right into a pile of horse poop. Ok, class: make popcorn and discuss!