The Day of the Wolves (1971)

Seven criminals are recruited to pull a job. They are known to one another only by an elementary code and sport the same cool-guy disguise. Sound familiar? There’s no way that a TV broadcast of The Day of the Wolves managed to escape the eyes and psyche of a young Quentin Tarantino.

As ringleader, No. 1 (Jan Murray, 1967’s Thunder Alley) assigns his assembled men numbers instead of names, instructs them to don fake beards and black gloves, and runs them ragged through two days of training for a three-hour job he promises will net each of them no less than a $50K payday: robbing the entire desert town of Wellerton, population 7,420. When questioned how such a small group can pull off such a big heist, No. 1 explains with a shit-eating grin, “One wolf can maul a whole flock of sheep. Imagine what seven can do.”

Unbeknownst to the crew, their otherwise perfectly planned crime coincides with the forced resignation of the town’s longtime chief of police (Richard Egan, The Big Cube) for purely political reasons; just because he’s lost his badge doesn’t mean he’s lost his will to protect and fight. Imagine what one can do.

If only it weren’t so obscure, the Arizona-lensed Wolves would be taught as a textbook case of what a resourceful filmmaker can do with the barest of resources. Although I’m sure writer/director Ferde Grofé Jr. (The Proud and Damned) would have stacked the deck with marquee names if he could have afforded it, the homogeny among the criminals doesn’t require it. Indeed, it seems almost deliberate that only one of the hired guns, No. 4 (Rick Jason, The Witch Who Came from the Sea), bears a discernible personality. What the film lacks in finesse, Grofé mitigates with an inventive setup, a crackling pace, a corker of an ending and action action action. Imagine what one can do. —Rod Lott

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