Tuesday, December 11, 2018

From the Street Sweeper to Kingpin

God minds the stable and Satan offers the only chance for a better life in the 1967 Spaghetti Western Day of Anger. Featuring some of the best music of the genre with a score by Riz Ortolani (borrowed by Tarantino for Django Unchained), the film features some provoking and unusual moral contemplations, a surprising and enjoyable plot, and some good shoot outs.

Its Italian title, I giorni dell'ria, according to Wikipedia, translates to Days of Wrath, a title that may have been avoided to avoid confusion with the Carl Dreyer movie, but the biblical allusion would've made more sense with the film's themes. The protagonist is a handsome young man (Giuliano Gemma) who's the scorn of his small western town, spat on by everyone but the denizens of the brothel, the town drunk, and a stable hand.

Forced to do all the dirty jobs around town and rebuked by the proprietor if he so much as thinks of sitting down in the saloon, it's unclear why the lad is such a scapegoat or why he puts up with it with so much humility. His name is Scott--his only name, he explains, because he's a bastard. Then one day a dangerous man rides into town, Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef), and tells Scott he should use his mother's name, Mary, for a surname, and encourages him to have more pride.

Scott has two competing father figures--Talby and the stable hand, Murph Allan Short (Walter Rilla), who starts to feel sorry he taught Scott how to quickdraw a pistol, something Scott has been obsessively practising for years with a wooden gun. Talby takes him under his wing, gives him a real gun, and some lessons about how to survive while earning respect and fear.

It feels like there's more of a history behind the story than is ever revealed. Some critics have put down the abuse Scott's suffered to an anachronistic class consciousness but it seems more vicious than that. The fact that he doesn't know who his father was and that two older men seem interested in his well being seems to indicate one of them might be his father. That this information is withheld contributes to the tension in the choice Scott has to make between ruling the town as a subordinate to a warlord or serving the town as a sheriff. But it's clear he needs lessons from both men.

One of the ways you can tell the difference between a Spaghetti Western and an American Western is everyone is beautifully dressed. Even Murph Allan Short gets a little blue and magenta neckerchief.

The actors are generally good, particularly Van Cleef who, as usual, excels in an understated menace that carries an implicit wisdom. Giuliano Gemma isn't bad though someone who looked more like an outcast might have worked better. Day of Anger is free with Amazon Prime.

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