BR: Violent Saturday (1955)

June 13, 2011 | By

ViolentSaturday1955_BRFilm: Excellent

BR Transfer: Excellent

BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: July 8, 2014

Genre: Film Noir / Crime / Suspense

Synopsis: A mining town’s social order is turned upside-down when three strangers plot a bank robbery.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with producer Nick Redman and film historian Julie Kirgo / Isolated Stereo Music Track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




By 1955, Richard Fleischer had graduated to the A-list of film directors, having worked his way up through RKO, making a string of memorable noir films, notably The Narrow Margin (1952). After a notable sojourn at Disney, where he directed the best adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), he returned to the world of sleazy and dangerous human behaviour with Violent Saturday, based on a novel by William L. Heath.

Similar to Sam Fuller’s nutbar House of Bamboo (1955), it’s a classic noir tale of desperate people misbehaving because they’ve lost touch with their humanity, or became just plain greedy, and filmed in sprawling CinemaScope with discrete surround sound.

Like his taut thrillers Union Station (1950) and the noir pinnacle The Big Heat (1953), Sidney Boehm’s script is a perfect example of fluid storytelling and scene construction: by the time the main event occurs – a generic bank robbery – we know the characters quite well; they’re not exceptionally vivid, but their positions in a mining town’s society are clearly drawn out.

The beauty of the film is nothing really happens in the first hour besides infidelity, a child’s schoolyard fight, and one of the robbers stepping on a kid’s hand because he felt like it. It’s all sweet teasing, and when the robbery and its tragic outcome occurs, there’s genuine emotion for those physically and emotionally scathed by the event.

Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan, fresh from Howard Hughes’ silly Underwater! (1955) isn’t just a drunk; he’s a philanderer trying to out-compete his nympho wife Emily (Margaret Hayes) while running the town’s business – a successful mining operation that dominates Bradenville’s skyline and soundscape, with dirt mounds and the constant boom of dynamiting. The whole industrial operation is a metaphor for a town on hinge of an explosive event that eventually drags even an unassuming Amish family into the fracas.

Much like Fred Zinnemann cutting to footage of ticking clocks and watches, and a train carrying hired guns to the sleepy small town in High Noon (1952), Fleischer uses sound and images to layer the sense of looming danger when, for a long stretch, there’s none: the three robbers who quickly arrive into town are merely on a stakeout, and until they pull out their guns and commit kidnapping, theft, robbery, and murder, the trio consists of business-like mastermind Harper (Stephen McNally), OCD weasel Chapman (J. Carrol Naish), and Benzedrine-sniffing goofball Dill (Lee Marvin, stealing the film with pure attitude) – all waiting and walking in and out of local hangouts, unaware some of the people they’re watching with semi-indifference will be affected by their violence.

Boyd isn’t the hero but a casualty of his own neglect; he waited too long to realize he’d been asleep during his marriage, although there’s hope with his latest fling, local nurse Linda Sherman. Actress Virginia Leith does the most with her underwritten character, and one suspects had Boehm been allowed to indulge in further small scenes, her intentions with Boyd would’ve been more clear, emerging from the confines of a home-wrecker / gold-digger archetype as his saviour from a doomed marriage.

The film’s real hero is the town everyman who missed out on real glory by making the machines used by heroes in WWII rather than use them himself. Shelley Martin (affable Victor Mature) is a decent man, and he’s part of the story’s ‘normal’ family, if not its moral compass, and it’s fitting both himself and a pacifist, Amish patriarch Stadt (Ernest Borgnine!), ostensibly rescue the town.

Every noir requires some sleaze, and Boehm’s dialogue is among the raciest in a fifties colour noir; people are possessive, wanton, secretive, and deny everything when caught or turn tables with blackmail. Linda wants the town industrialist but she also teases the bank manager (Tommy Noonan), who’s also a Peeping Tom; and the local librarian clerk (a mousy Sylvia Sydney) blackmails the “impudent” banker when he threatens to forclose on her home.

Amid the drama, Hugo Friedhofer’s score is surprisingly sparse and doesn’t draw attention to itself, perhaps because the composer recognized the mining location (Bisbee, Arizona, during its strip-mining boom period) offered the film its own special sonic qualities. The opening “Main Titles” cue is actually preceded by a mountain being dynamited to bits, and the soundtrack is frequently layered with the constant drone of trucks and grinding engines. Perhaps the film’s funniest scene isn’t filled with Boehm’s ribald dialogue, but seeing the lunacy of patients recuperating in a hospital that faces an active quarry. Hardly conducive towards recuperating from a serious wound.


The 2014 Blu-ray

ViolentSaturday1955Violent Saturday was originally Twilight Time’s third DVD release in 2011 (after The Kremlin Letter and Fate is the Hunter), and about a year later Fox mastered a brilliant HD transfer which pretty much renders the prior non-anamorphic DVD obsolete.

Rope1948_DellMapbackThe details are so crisp, one can make out the Lacoste logo on Brad Dexter’s golfing shirt, and more surprisingly, I was able to make out James Stewart’s face on the cover of the same 1948 Dell mapback movie edition of Rope I have, seen in a paperback rack in two shots when bookish bank manager Harry Reeves follows nurse Linda into the local drugstore.

Now that’s detail!

The uncompressed DTS 5.1 track is robust and preserves the peculiar positioning of dialogue from the original Fox surround sound mix. Ported over from the 2011 DVD is a trailer, Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay, and the aforementioned isolated score track which seems to feature more music than the CD release (and sounds quite sharp in uncompressed DTS stereo).

Newly recorded is a commentary track with Kirgo and producer Nick Redman, both of whom share high regard for this underrated classic which was apparently unavailable on home video prior to 2011 – quite shocking, given the genuine quality of the production, script, performances, and Fleischer’s direction. The pair point out several careful directorial touches, and fans of the film will undoubtedly pick up further details revisiting the film on Blu (such as the ongoing theme of humans angrily colliding with each other and the natural environment, and Amish farmer Stadt, who’s first seen in the film holding a pitchfork and last seen ramming it into someone’s back).

The commentary track meanders a little around the hour mark – after a steady stream of praise, there’s a need for some heavier criticisms of the film’s flaws – but in fairness, the film just glimmers a bit more after another viewing. Kirgo and Redman provide background info on the cast – including underrated Virginia Leith, whose performance style and delivery of dialogue echoes Sean Young – and Kirgo makes frequently witty observations; her take on ‘the big dumb brutes’ of the film is hysterical, as well regarding as Egan and Mature’s visages being ‘too broad for CinemaScope’ – a not unreasonable observation, considering how wide their faces  look when affected by the innate distortion of the lenses in what’s called ‘CinemaScope mumps’ (or what I like to call smooshee-vision).

Fleischer’s next film for the studio was the weird Joan Collins gam-fest The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), whereas Egan went straight into the glossy Seven Cities of Gold (1955) for Fox, featuring one of Friedhofer’s most sumptuous scores.

Victor Mature, often given short-shrift by critics (and himself), may have moved on to more banal genre outings in the final third of his fairly prolific career, but he was strong in several classic pictures for home studio Fox, including the noir nail-biter I Wake Up Screaming (1941), playing Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine (1947), and the cynical Biblical epic The Egyptian (1954).

Sexy Virginia Leith appeared in the colour noir A Kiss Before Dying (1956) before sliding into TV, and earning a bit of ignominy in the Grand Guignol idiocy The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962). Lee Marvin also appeared in several dramatic anthology TV series, but he earned deserved critical attention in his own small breakthrough film, Shack Out on 101 (1955).

Sydney Boehm followed up with The Tall Men (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1955), The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) co-starring Richard Egan, Woman Obsessed (1959), and the grisly Shock Treatment (1964).



© 2011; revised 2014 by Mark R. Hasan


External References:

Editor’s Blogs — IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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