Color, 1967, 113/86m.
Directed by Tonino Valerii
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Al Mulock
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC, UK R0 HD/PAL), Medusa (Italy R2 PAL), TC Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Wild East (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)
The rich history of the spaghetti western has certainly been getting its due on home video after decades of mainstream fixation on just the films of Sergio Leone, with many titles now elevated to masterpiece status that were once consigned to substandard video releases and tattered appearances at the bottom of theatrical triple bills. One film championed by fans but rarely seen in fine condition is Day of Anger, which arrived at the height of Italian western mania in the late '60s and features one of Lee Van Cleef's finest performances, incredibly delivered right in between his stellar work on The Big Gundown and Death Rides a Horse.
In the dusty town of Clifton, young Scott (western vet and future Tenebrae star Gemma) is something of a local punching bag as his menial job sweeping the streets makes him the regular target of local bullies. One of his tormentors ends up getting a bullet from a stranger in town named Frank Talby (Van Cleef), who rides in and strikes up an unusual friendship (and mentorship) with Scott that turns him into a more assertive leader capable of stopping a man in his tracks with the draw of a pistol. That involves Scott secretly tailing Frank on a mission to retrieve some money and proving his worth, which sends them both back to Clifton for a violent date with destiny.
Both Van Cleef and Gemma (already a star thanks to the two Ringo films) are excellent here in a sort of father/son relationship that takes some dark twists and turns, almost feeling at times like The Hitcher on horses. The film also proved the worth of director Tonino Valerii, who cut his teeth on the first two Sergio Leone westerns and would go on to direct the superb, undervalued The Price of Power and the effective giallo, My Dear Killer, not to mention two of the highest profile spaghetti westerns of the '70s, My Name Is Nobody and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die. Also noteworthy is the superb, propulsive soundtrack by Riz Ortolani, which later popped up in both Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Django Unchained and sports one of the best main title tracks of the era.
Released in the U.S. in 1969 by National General Pictures, Day of Anger followed the path of much of its peers by appearing with an English-language soundtrack (looped as usual but the language for which the audience was primarily intended) in a retooled version shorter than what audiences saw in Italy. Both cuts are offered on Arrow's region-free Blu-ray and DVD combo release (offered in both North America and the United Kingdom), which handily bests its home video predecessor like a non-anamorphic DVD from Wild East, an interlaced Japanese Blu-ray with the Italian cut (and the shorter one yanked from the Wild East disc), and an Italian DVD with no English options. The image quality here is striking throughout and up there with the best HD spaghetti western presentations to date, with both versions faring equally well. The U.S. cut is presented with just the English track (which is fine), while the European cut has Italian and English options (with optional English subs offered for the two cuts as well). Extras include a trio of great video interviews including an archival 2008 one (running 11 mins.) with Valerii covering the making of the film and how its cast came together, a new 14-minute one with co-writer and giallo king Ernesto Gastaldi about his work with Valerii and the largely meaningless source material credited for his work here, and Valerii biographer Roberto Curti chatting for 44 minutes about the director's western career including his start with Leone and especially how he approached the myth of the American West and integrated his own cultural and literary influences on his key films. Also included is a short scene present only in the U.S. cut isolated as a separate extra for reference and a liner notes booklet with an essay by spaghetti western book author Howard Hughes explaining how this key film fits within the pantheon of that beloved subgenre.