Several great moments help propel this rather mundane story
Oddly pedestrian, a touch plodding and determinedly non-political... yet still entertaining enough, if only for the sheer Spaghetti joy of spotting familiar faces, sets and locations, Day of Anger wins by virtue of Van Cleef’s imposing persona and Gemma’s considerable charisma. Van Cleef could deliver this sort of thing in his sleep, ensuring that even if snoozing through a by-rote screenplay semi-adaption of Ron Barker’s German novel, Death Rode on Tuesdays, he exudes power, wit and cool intimidation. This sort of material would serve him far better in Guilio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse, another time when he would appear as a mentor to a younger character in need of courage. He delivers all you could expect and hope for from a genre fixture who was already iconic by this time. And Gemma, who was a rising star in the genre, makes a fine transformation from meek and put-upon to staunch and resolute. The two work well together.
Poor Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) leads a dog’s life. As the street-cleaner for the town of Clifton, he is bullied and humiliated at every turn. But when slick gunfighter Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town, he finds an opportunity to redeem himself and gain status and respect as Talby’s right-hand man and protégé. Welcoming such devotion, Talby becomes a father-figure and mentor to the youth, who finds that he has a degree of skill with a six-shooter, himself. But in Tonino Valerii’s colourful 1967 Spaghetti Western, Scott discovers that this Faustian pact comes with a high price when his tutor assumes a much more demonstrative role in the town, and his dark ulterior motives become clear.
Valerii formerly worked as assistant for Sergio Leone, and he seeks to bring to the screen many of the tricks and devices that he learned from the master, perhaps even mimicking the relationship between Scott and his more experienced benefactor. Although the bodycount is reasonably high and the action is fairly frequent and brutal, the film still feels quite tame and perhaps a little too sedate. The English voice for Gemma is atrocious, undermining his character and belittling his dilemma. But there remains a charm to the story, as slight as it is, and even if the finale is both obvious and lacklustre, we have enjoyed a visual treat on the way to it.
Several great moments help propel this rather mundane story. A speeding rifle-joust on horseback may be quite ludicrous – especially as the combatants are using old muzzle-loaders - but still manages to crank up some sense of carnival excitement and south-of-the-border pseudo pageantry in what is, otherwise, just another saddle-sore take on the Frankenstein myth of a lost creation finding its path and turning upon its creator.
Of course, one of the staples of the Western picture and, maybe especially its Italian variation even more so, is the musical score. And in this department, Day of Anger, plays its trump card. No matter how repetitive Riz Ortolani’s title riff might be, appearing frequently and forming the overwhelming majority of what is, otherwise, a really rather sparse score, it is truly catchy and infectious. Not as memorable or as exciting as some fans like to claim, Valerii’s oater is still good fun. It may travel a well-worn path, and may not offer up many surprises but it's never dull. Not top tier Spaghetti, then... but still worthy of adding to any Euro-Western collection.
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