2017 Film Essays

Sunday Spaghetti: Tonino Valerii’s ‘Day of Anger (I giorni dell’ira)’

Sunday Spaghetti is a Vague Visages column dedicated to Spaghetti Westerns. 

In Clifton, the setting for Tonino Valerii’s 1967 film Day of Anger aka I giorni dell’ira, power dynamics mean everything. Politicians and entrepreneurs negotiate to maintain order, and everybody seems to know their place — even a wide-eyed broom master (street sweeper) that consistently gets his ass kicked in public settings. With Day of Anger, director Valerii examines the relationship between town hierarchies and outsider experiences, mentor and protege protocols, Western traditions and genre modifications.

After a classic opening credits sequence, Valerii begins the narrative with a town identification shot, the first of many show-and-tell sequences. Throughout Day of Anger, he and cinematographer Enzo Serafin reinforce the character dialogue with telling visual details. For example, when the protagonist first appears (Giuliano Gemma as Scott), he’s staged lower than his boss Abel Murray (Andrea Bosic); a visual motif that speak volumes without any dialogue whatsoever. It’s no accident that Clifton’s most influential figures consistently loom over Scott. The town elitists use the poor as punching bags. Scott doesn’t even have a last name. No family. No heritage.

When Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) — a professional outcast — shows up, he immediately connects with Scott and baptizes him with a surname (Mary, the mother’s name). He also presents an opportunity to make a buck. Scott has one immediate goal: earn $18 to buy a new Colt. It seems ludicrous that Scott Mary would dare point a gun at anybody, as Valerii focuses heavily on his weaknesses early on. By shielding viewers away from the character’s actual talents, Valerii demonstrates how elitists pass judgment by focusing on what they perceive to be the truth.

But after Talby gets acquitted of murder (yes, he finds trouble quick), Scott decides that it’s time to make a few changes. As his unofficial life counselor (Walter Rilla as Murph) often suggests, Scott needs experience. Road life with the grizzled Talby can change his reputation. But the challenge — the conflict to overcome — is proving himself to Clifton (society). In a court scene, Valerii once again establishes clear power dynamics. If the visual suggestions don’t immediately connect, the director offers another blunt statement when Scott receives a literal whoopin’ inside the actual courtroom (!), courtesy of his corrupt boss. Talby, wise beyond his years, understands legal technicalities. But he, too, must prove himself before moving up the ladder.

Whereas the Clifton townsfolk confuse Scott and misrepresent him, Talby offers clarity and structure. Their bond strengthens Valerii’s narrative, as the outlaw-in-training shifts his loyalties and priorities elsewhere, but not so much that he’s going to leave Clifton entirely. The duo can easily become influential figures within Clifton — if they can mutually agree on a set of rules while Talby collects some debts. Like so many Spaghetti Western anti-heroes, Talby lives by a specific code and literally communicates life lessons to Scott. Never beg another man. Never trust anyone. Never get between a gun and its target. With Talby, Scott receives a strong father figure, one that instills him with self-confidence and direction. Day of Anger may feel simple at times, but it’s full of strong visual and character themes that set-up more complex sequences.

Scott soaks up information like a college freshman processing lectures from the first row. Day of Anger isn’t quite a traditional buddy road trip movie, but that’s how it’s structured during the middle scenes. Talby visits old acquaintances and Scott takes notes; Talby suffers and Scott comes to the rescue. The conflict and resolution leads them directly back to Clifton for the big payoff. But given Scott’s knack for learning quick and pulling quick — a crucial plot point — Valerii leaves the doors open for various outcomes. Therein lies Day of Anger’s value within the Spaghetti Western genre: opportunity vs. loyalty vs. educated decisions. This isn’t a movie about impulses. Talby doesn’t kick ass simply because he can — it’s about politics, strategy and timing. Scott has every reason to turn Clifton upside down, but he seems to value loyalty over vengeance. Scott realizes that respect comes with corroborated experience, so he needs Talby. He can’t just spout off about new experiences and demand respect. Of course, the world doesn’t owe Scott anything, which is perhaps the biggest life lesson presented in Day of Anger.

From a 2017 perspective, Gemma’s Scott reminds of late 90s/early 2000s Leonardo DiCaprio: the pretty boy type. Despite his talent and resume, many people blasted DiCaprio for his Romeo +Juliet/Titanic image. But then he starred in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006). A cinematic father figure presented a different side — “look, he’s not just THAT.” In Day of Anger, Scott represents the fresh-faced kid with seemingly nothing to offer beyond some practical skills. At first, he’s depicted as weak but kind. With Talby, though, he’s recognized for his talent beyond sweeping. Still, many people question his toughness — it’s all part of the process. He’s challenged repeatedly, but Talby already knows Scott’s value, even if he’s yet to learn how to project himself within society.

On a fundamental level, Talby represents Western mythology and ideals that Scott admires. But Talby actually maintains power through legal documents. And with Murph, Valerii further touches on genre traditions but then subverts them by focusing on immediate realities. Murph and Talby go back 20 years, and the former owns Doc Holliday’s legendary gun, but rather than boasting about his past, Murph explains gun modifications and techniques to Scott. He explains the little things that Scott must understand to survive.

The leads stay focused on strategy at all times, and the locale madame — one of the few female characters in Day of Anger — shows a certain amount of respect for pre-violence Scott. This dynamic is unique for a Spaghetti Western. Scott and Talby aren’t the typical drink, fight and screw Western archetypes. Talby navigates Clifton with documents/reputation and Scotty learns how to stand up for himself while staying relatively composed. New power dynamics; the same common courtesy.

Day of Anger is a tightly-structured film about societal influencers and people on the fringe that need somebody in their corner. Lee Van Cleef provides all the brawn and clever dialogue that one might expect in a Spaghetti Western, but Giuliano Gemma’s Scott represents a more complex figure, someone that manages to overcome the odds while coming to peace with life’s ups and downs.

Stream ‘Day of Anger’ at Amazon Prime.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and the Founding Editor of Vague Visages. In 2004, he graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. From 2006 to 2012, Quinn lived in Hollywood, California and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.