Pieced together by Tonino Valerii, the unsung hero of the western genre, Day of Anger provides him with the first of two true spaghetti western classics. This Lee Van Cleef-starring piece was not his first rodeo, but it was perhaps his most popular. He elevated his craft, simply through an awareness of where his story should go, and why it should take its message with just a pinch of salt. We are, after all, here to be entertained. Entertained we shall be, for Day of Anger is a truly strong western. Strangely enough, it is not all that out there. It does not adapt to the elements or popularity of the genre; it merely follows the vision Valerii had for his characters.
With capable hands comes quality, and audiences are saddled up with a strong director and leading man pairing. Swift gunplay and a great adaptation of the setting sees Frank Talby (Cleef) saunter into town and take on the prospective heroes and villains. He is, as most protagonists are in this genre, falling somewhere between the golden champion of the struggling classes and rebellious lone wolf, out to make money for himself and move on. That balance is struck effectively, often, and Day of Anger plays with such a system exceptionally well. Talby and his pistol do not discriminate. He fires shots off at outlaws, bandits and sheriffs alike. Valerii utilises this well, preventing Talby from becoming stale by showing him as an unhinged gun with his own plan of action.
He presents Cleef as a man who has no side to choose from. Clint Eastwood did much the same in A Fistful of Dollars, but the reaction to the two are very different. Eastwood looked the hero. He played the part. Rugged but chiselled, always stepping in to prevent harm to those that mean him no ill. Cleef is darker and different. He is the instigator, rather than the preventer. He has no care for those that may do no harm but does nothing to prevent death or destruction from reaching them. He is more inclined to aid himself and his new apprentice, Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma). Cleef strolls into town, drags out an apprentice, and settles into the motions of this small, tense ramshackle of houses and barns.
The quintessential non-Eastwood western sees Cleef take centre stage, and perform at the height of his talents. He is neither saviour of the town nor its destroyer, just a man passing through. That is what many of these western stars were doing, not just the characters they played, but their actions as performers also. Spaghetti westerns were just a footnote for their journey. For Eastwood, it was where he started, and for Cleef, it feels more like his prime days. His starring roles are all found pocketed within these epic ballads of love and hate. If there’s a six-shooter on his side, then he is sure to take centre stage. Day of Anger relishes in this opportunity, giving the man plenty of room to work his craft the way only he can. He presents a darker side to the genre, one that no other was able to create.