Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Day of the Wolves (1971)

          Zippy low-budget thriller The Day of the Wolves has one of the coolest premises you’ll ever encounter in the heist genre, but the combination of a generic cast, a low budget, and threadbare storytelling keep the picture from living up to its potential. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy here for fans of ’70s crime cinema, and it’s unlikely anyone will ever attempt to remake the picture, since the existence of cellphones renders the premise obsolete. The setup goes like this. Several criminals receive letters in the mail instructing them to grow beards and report to their nearest airport for prepaid flights. Upon arrival, each criminal is collected by a driver, blindfolded, and driven two and a half hours to somewhere. Their benefactor, who identifies himself as “Number One,” assigns each crook a number, then explains the reason for secrecy. None of the criminals is to know the location of their headquarters or the names of their colleagues, because anonymity will offer protection during the federal manhunt that will inevitably follow their heist—of an entire town. Through careful strategizing, cutting phone lines, and so on, Number One plans to simultaneously plunder every business in the small community, committing multiple robberies in one brazen action. Writer, producer, and director Ferde Grofe Jr. lays out the particulars incredibly well, so on a certain level some viewers may find themselves rooting for the bad guys simply because the plan is so ingenious.
          However, the actual hero of The Day of the Wolves is small-town cop Pete Anderson (Richard Egan), who gets fired for political reasons from his job as sheriff—of the town the criminals plan to rob. You can guess where it goes from there. Despite having been stripped of his badge, Pete becomes a one-man army defending his neighbors against the criminals. Watching The Day of the Wolves, it’s frustrating to realize how little work would have been necessary to develop Grofe’s story concept into a proper screenplay. A little character development here, a little plot complication there, some improved story logic, and, bingo, The Day of the Wolves becomes a great piece for, say, Don Siegel to direct. Alas, Grofe took the DIY path, shooting his movie on the cheap in Arizona with an undistinguished cast. Egan does okay meat-and-potatoes work, and Jan Murray is fairly smooth as the cold-blooded “Number One,” but the film’s shortcomings are myriad. The picture looks cheap, the narrative is far too predictable, and the ending is silly. That said, The Day of the Wolves builds up a solid head of steam for most of its 92 minutes, so it’s no surprise to learn that Quentin Tarantino is among the admirers of this imaginative crime picture.

The Day of the Wolves: FUNKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

"Through careful strategizing and cutting phone lines, Number One plans to simultaneously plunger every business in the small community, essentially committing multiple robberies in one action."


Considering how Murray is presented as a criminal mastermind, you'd think he would have chosen a more prosperous town or target to rob. The town shown in the film looks pretty rinky dink, without the prmoise of loads of lucre to loot.

By Peter Hanson said...

Yes, plunder, unless the team had a hidden agenda of fixing clogged drains in every business they robbed. So considerate! And, yeah, the rinky-dink town is another detail that would have been addressed in the imagined better version of the same idea.

Unknown said...

the inspiration for Tarrattino' s debut by all acvounts