Day of the Wolves

Day of the Wolves
Day of the Wolves
Directed by Ferde Grofe Jr.
Produced by Ferde Grofe Jr.
Written by Ferde Grofe Jr.
Starring Richard Egan
Martha Hyer
Jan Murray
Rick Jason
Frankie Randall
Smokey Roberds
Andre Marquis
Zaldy Zshornack
Henry Capps
Music by Sean Bonniwell
Cinematography Ric Waite
Editing by Tony Di Marco
Distributed by Goldkey Entertainment
Release date(s) November 1971 (1971-11)
Running time 92 min.
Country USA
Language English
Budget $187,000

Day of the Wolves is a 1971 heist movie starring Richard Egan and directed, written and produced by Ferde Grofe Jr.. It was the first movie to be made on location in the new town of Lake Havasu City, Arizona.



Richard Egan stars as Pete Anderson, the chief of police of the small western town called "Wellerton". Anderson has a run-in with the son of a council official (played by Len Travis and John Dennis respectively), who gets him fired. His warnings that the town is vulnerable to a criminal takeover were also considered scaremongering.

At the same time as this is happening, a group of thieves are being anonymously summoned to a ghost town in the desert by a criminal mastermind. Each of the thieves is promised a minimum of $50,000 for their participation in a heist, and arrives wearing a beard to disguise their appearance. The thieves are assigned a number (number #1 being the mastermind), and asked to wear gloves for the duration of the exploit, so as not to provide evidence that could lead back to them. They are shown a map of the town of Wellerton and told that they will fleece it. The criminals use the ghost town to train for the heist.

Back in town, Pete Anderson hands off the running of the police department to his deputy (played by John Lupton), and seeks the comfort of his Wife Maggie (Martha Hyer) and his young son Will (played by Steve Manone). Disillusioned by events, Anderson takes to drinking and ponders his future.

The "wolves" fly to the outskirts of Wellerton, and overcome a farmer and his wife (played by character actor Percy Helton and local amateur actor Elizabeth Thomas respectively). They then proceed to blow up the bridge that provides access to the town of Wellerton, and cut phone and power to the town. They surprise the new Sheriff and his deputies, and lock them in the town jail.

Maggie Anderson tips off Pete that the town is being invaded by criminals and he drives into town and starts a running gun fight with the wolves, killing wolf #2 (played by actor and singer Frankie Randall) and wolf number #3 (actor Andre Marquis), and also injuring wolf #4 (Rick Jason). Anderson is also superficially wounded in the fight.

Wolves numbers #1, #5 (Philippines actor Zaldy Zshornack), #6 (Henry Capps) and #7 (singer/actor Smokey Roberds) escape back to their plane. They take off and parachute to separate locations, shave off their beards and change their clothes, burying the old clothes and parachute. We see wolf #6 buying a greyhound ticket, and heading off into the night.

Back in Wellerton, the region sheriff (played by veteran actor Sean McClory) arrives in town to collect wolf #4 for interrogation. The Town's mayor visits Pete Anderson and offers him his old job back, which he refuses.

In hospital, the injured wolf #4 is pressured by the Sheriff and a detective (played by Biff Elliot) to give information about the mastermind and other criminals, but all he can tell them is that they had numbers and beards. On the TV in his room a children's show plays in the background, with a clown amusing the kids. Wolf #4 recognizes the voice of the clown as that of wolf #1. The clown tells the children a story that's an allegory of the heist they just pulled off. Wolf #4 starts laughing uncontrollably as the sheriff and detective look on.



Day of the Wolves has been generally well received, although reviews, especially more recent ones, often cite the film's low budget as evidenced by a lack of expected production values (in particular, the prosthetic beards used in the production, see below). TV guide describes the film as a "Sporadically interesting heist film".[1]

More recently, the film has achieved minor cult status (see below) with its increasing availability.

Music score

The soundtrack for Day of the Wolves was scored by 1960s music icon Sean Bonniwell, founder of the band The Music Machine. The score and title song are frequently cited in reviews as being integral to the appeal of the movie. The music was recorded at Original Sound Studios on Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, California in September 1971, with the little-known LA band "Green" performing together with Bonniwell on vocals.[2]

The title listing for the score is:

  • Theme Song
  • Theme Song / Underscore
  • Increasing Tension
  • Night Time Sneak
  • Drum the Drum
  • Wolf Jazz / Rock
  • Gathering Storm
  • Desert Easy
  • Spanish Wolves
  • Creeping
  • Funky Wolves
  • Military Drums
  • Show Shine Groove
  • Cook'n Wolves Theme
  • Frantic Rock Suspense
  • Up & At'em
  • Drums & Sneaky Vibes
  • Blues Wolves Theme
  • Shuffle Sneak
  • Scratch & Hide
  • Romantic Theme (sung)
  • Carousel
  • Carousel Insanity
  • Theme Song (credits)


Day of the Wolves was the first film to be made in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Filming made use of meager town locations, but completely omitted using the semi-completed London Bridge. Interior shots of the wolves hideout were taken at (then) abandoned apartment construction, now "Acoma Apartments" at the intersection of Acoma Avenue and Mesquite Avenue. Other scenes used the old airfield on the island area, and several locations on McCulloch Blvd.

The Farmhouse scenes were shot at a former alfalfa farming area, Planet Ranch, and the ghost town scenes at the old Swansea mining town, both located East of Parker, Arizona. The bridge scenes were filmed at the Bill Williams Bridge, located midway between Parker and Lake Havasu City.

Pickup scenes were filmed several months after principal photography wrapped in or around Los Angeles at Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, Malibu and LAX.

Notable crew members

Day of the Wolves was the first film for most of the film crew; several of those went onto achieve notable success in the Hollywood film industry:

  • Peter MacGregor-Scott ... Production Manager
    Incorrectly listed as Assistant Director in the credits, MacGregor-Scott went on to produce many major US films, including the Cheech and Chong movies, The Fugitive, Batman Forever and most recently The Guardian.
  • Ric Waite ... Cinematographer
    Emmy award-winning cinematographer who worked on many of the most successful films of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. He collaborated with Walter Hill on several films, including The Long Riders and 48 Hrs.
  • Calmar Roberts ... Assistant Cameraman
    Principal cameraman on many major motion pictures, including the Lethal Weapon movies, Jurassic Park and Basic Instinct.
  • Mike Scott ... Grip
    Went on to become Camera Operator on many feature films including Die Hard, Speed, Speed 2, and Thelma & Louise.

Use of local amateur actors

In common with other low budget, regionally-made movies, Day of the Wolves used local amateur actors for minor roles in the production working side-by-side with actors belonging to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). This was made possible because Arizona is a Right to work state.

Local actors were recruited through the Lake Havasu Theater Guild by its president, Floyd Hamilton. Hamilton worked on the film both as a production assistant and on screen in the roles of pilot and chauffeur (he can be seen opening the door of the station wagon for Rick Jason on his arrival at the thieves hideout).

The beards

A key plot point of the film is that the thieves are asked to grow beards before arriving at the hideout to help mask their identities. Several cast members wore real beards during the production: Smokey Roberds, Frankie Randall, Andre Marquis and Zaldy Zshornack. Other members of the cast playing villain roles (Rick Jason, Jan Murray, and Henry Capps) wore fake beards. By modern filmmaking standards the stage beards appear unconvincing, especially since it is implied in the film narrative that the thieves have grown them within a matter of days/weeks upon receiving Number One's invitation to join the caper.

In some respects the film has become synonymous for the use of stage beards as much as the story: for example, in 2008, the Austin Facial Hair Club held a special showing of Day of the Wolves at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to raise funds to attend the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage, Alaska.[3]


Day of the Wolves was originally made as a negative pickup deal by Ferde Grofe's Balut production company for the (now defunct) US distribution company Goldkey Entertainment as a TV movie for US consumption. It was also shown theatrically in some parts of Europe and the rest of the world. In the US, it was also widely shown in the early 1970s as an inflight movie. In the UK it was shown as a TV movie. Although frequently shown on US television in the 1970s and early 1980s, it's rarely found on TV now probably due to its hitherto uncertain copyright status that has only recently changed (see below). It was available in the 1980s on VHS tape, but has essentially been unobtainable until public domain versions started to become available.

Copyright status of the film and music score

As with many low budget and/or independent films of the period, the Day of the Wolves film was not formally copyrighted through the Library of Congress (LOC) when it was made by either Gold Key Entertainment nor Ferde Grofe jr. The film clearly displays the copyright logo (©) with date (1971) in the opening credit sequence and is therefore assumed to be covered by the US the statutory minimum copyright protection for a published but unregistered work created before January 1, 1978 of 28 years. The film has been widely assumed to be in the public domain for much of the past decade, though its status has recently changed (see below). It has been openly downloadable from the Internet for several years from a variety of public domain film sites and has been included in the catalogs of public domain film distributors.

The music score for Day of the Wolves was formally copyrighted by Sean Bonniwell with the Library of Congress in 1971. The title/theme song is copyrighted as a separate work, while the score is copyrighted as a 'collective' work. This copyright would have expired 28 years later in 1999 without renewal, except that Public Law 102- 307, enacted on June 26, 1992, amended the 1976 Copyright Act provided for automatic renewal of the term of copyrights secured between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977 (these will not show up in online searches unless the author has requested a copy of the renewal). Both the title/theme and score are also registered with BMI for live performance royalties management and SoundExchange to collect royalties for Internet performance rights.

In 2009 Ferde Grofe (as Balut Productions) successfully applied to the US copyright office to register copyright control over the film, which was granted in July 2009 under copyright registration: RE0000930779. This copyright covers the motion picture not including the soundtrack (since Bonniwell has a pre-existing copyright covering the music score from the film).

Since both the film and the music score of the film are formally copyrighted through the Library of Congress, the film can no longer be considered to be within the public domain (arguably it never was since the music soundtrack was copyrighted since 1971). Accordingly, publicly available online copies of the film on websites such as and Google Video have now been taken offline.

Cult status

The film has a small but growing cult status,[4] fueled by a compelling storyline and contemporary rock music score. A documentary film about the making of Day of the Wolves is currently in production.[5] An article in the Fall 2008 edition of MovieMaker Magazine titled "Documenting a Cult Classic" [6] describes Grofe's role in the production.

Influence on other filmmakers

Reviews[7][8] of Day of the Wolves often cite the similarity of the basic storyline of the film with Quentin Tarantino's debut movie Reservoir Dogs. In both stories, the criminals are anonymized by the gang leader to prevent repercussions should any one of them get caught: in Day of the Wolves the criminals wear beards and are identified by numbers, and in Reservoir Dogs they are identified by the names of colors.

However, Tarantino is equally likely to have drawn inspiration from another cult movie, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, in which the criminals are also identified by the names of colors.


External links

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