Violent Saturday Review

Richard Fleischer's sun-ripened CinemaScope melodrama Violent Saturday plays like a schizophrenic hybrid of noir and soap, the bastard love child of Fuller and Minnelli. The 1955 Twentieth Century Fox production is so confusing as to render the enlightened viewer a mess of classification anxiety. Is there any possible way we can catalog this as film noir? (No.) Can it still be a sudsy melodrama even when it climaxes with a bank robbery and subsequent brutal, tense encounter outside an Amish farmhouse? (Perhaps.)

The fun thing about any attempts to neatly put Violent Saturday in a traditional box is that its director was probably one of the poster children for resisting categorization and the expectations which would follow. Fleischer is someone who made both the classic film noir The Narrow Margin and the Schwarzenegger vehicle Conan the Destroyer. He directed 11 Rillington Place and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. During his lengthy career, the only son of the creator of Betty Boop somehow followed up taut noir like Bodyguard and Armored Car Robbery with the original Doctor Dolittle and a remake of The Jazz Singer starring Neil Diamond. Real-life crime dramas Compulsion and The Boston Strangler sit next to Mandingo and Red Sonja. It boggles the mind and there's very little hope of trying to reconcile Fleischer's complete filmography. As such, Violent Saturday might actually be the perfect Richard Fleischer movie.

Plot-wise, we're looking at a rather sprawling ensemble piece, particularly considering the short ninety minutes of runtime. There are a trio of bank robbers who are outsiders yet register as very normal-seeming figures. Victor Mature is here as a family man with a job at the local mine and an oldest son forced to fight his best friend over their fathers differing degrees of military recognition during the war. The small town, named Bradenville but not given a state, has a wealthy businessman (Richard Egan) in a collapsing marriage who's shown drinking too much and being ushered home by an actual nurse (played by Virginia Leith). The latter character is frequently followed by bank manager Tommy Noonan, a married man unable to resist timing his nightly dog walks to when Leith undresses in front of her window. The very foundations of small town fifties Americana shake a little amid the revelations of Violent Saturday.

Leith, whose smoky voice and overall presence indicate a star quality that was never quite realized, separates herself from the crowd.  Her career may now stand out as much for having once been the stepmother of American Psycho director Mary Harron as it does for her roles in this and the under-seen A Kiss Before Dying. She's nonetheless one of the key elements of the film. Those still unconvinced can picture Ernest Borgnine in full-on Amish garb, making a huge impression by picture's end. Or maybe you just want Lee Marvin, which would be entirely understandable. Violent Saturday came during Marvin's lengthy period of playing villainous supporting roles and stealing pretty much every single scene in which he appeared. Even when Marvin, here playing one of a trio of bank robbers and decked out in an icy, blue-grey suit, doesn't have something focal to do like stepping on a little kid's hand or complaining about all of the colds he caught from an ex, he finds a way to draw your attention. As much as it is anyone else's, and despite not having all that much time on-screen, the film is Marvin's. Ostensibly, Victor Mature is probably the closest to a lead or the hero but he's characteristically stiff and hardly a cause for excitement.

Additionally, the entire strand involving Mature, upon which the main narrative relies, feels troublesome. Macho notions of he-man masculinity and heroism require a somewhat predictable and safe ending. This idea that Mature can only make his son proud once he's proven his "bravery" reeks of justifications for violence and strikes one as highly problematic. It would be nice to see it as simply a misguided sign of the times, as outdated as the flowery dress his wife puts on to greet him in and the poptop beer can the maid eagerly delivers as soon as he returns home from work. The bank robbers must then be foiled by Mature in order to save himself, the town, and, apparently, his manhood in the eyes of his son.

The idea of violence as a therapeutic release, in which the bank robbery in the film acts as a magic key to break the characters out of their respective funks, is certainly an interesting one. We're left with a hefty dose of moralizing that finds the adulterer killed so that her husband can presumably pursue his near-conquest absent any guilt and the peeper shot only to confess his crimes in full to the victim. Most every character gets a miraculously tidy ending - delved out based on some perceived sense of right and wrong. A film with often beautiful blue skies, chirping birds, and an altogether idyllic backdrop teases its core rottenness before settling on some version of a happy ending.

The Disc(s)

Violent Saturday has been treated somewhat poorly in the home video markets both in the United States and the UK. It previously had the misfortune of being hacked into a 1.33:1 framing from its original 2.55:1 for Twilight Time's DVD. That has been promised to be corrected in the near future for a Blu-ray from that stateside outfit but there's really no reason to wait when Eureka has now issued the picture in its proper aspect ratio on BD in the UK. It is region-locked to B. The edition is actually Dual Format, meaning it contains both a Blu-ray and a separate DVD inside the case.

Picture quality is simply amazing. Aside from employing the correct 2.55:1 aspect ratio, the image looks wonderfully sharp, detailed and damage-free. Colors are realized well. The palette used, perhaps owing to it being processed originally by De Luxe, is a warm one. Browns and bronzed skin tones such as Mature's particularly stand out on screen. The cooler colors like Marvin's suit - here looking more blue than I remember in the restored theatrical print I watched a few years back - somehow make less of an impact.

Audio is offered in either a DTS-HD 4.0 Master Audio presentation or LPCM 2.0 mono, both in English. You can hardly go wrong, and I'd probably choose the mono as sounding more natural and authentic. Dialogue sounds clean and musical cues are heard clearly minus any impediment. It's a strong listen on the whole. There are optional English language subtitles.

It's probably best not to speculate as to why this release is coming from Eureka rather than that label's more prestigious Masters of Cinema line. Nonetheless, the general quality from both a technical and a supplemental standpoint are virtually indistinguishable. On the disc we have two separate appreciation pieces, both ported over from last year's French Blu-ray release via Carlotta.

William Friedkin offers his own kind of analysis/narration in a featurette (20:37) entitled "Richard Fleischer, Storyteller." Friedkin likes the film and, apparently, Fleischer, and he also describes exactly what happens in certain scenes. It's similar to one of his commentaries except in a fraction of the time.

A second featurette, entitled "Melodrame policier" (28:07), has writer/director Nicolas Saada going in some detail on what he likes about the picture. It has Saada's French audio over clips from the film and is subtitled in English. It's easily the more instructive of the two extras.

Also included for added value is a 32-page booklet, attractively outfitted with images from the film. It also has an essay by Adam Batty on the film as well as the original campaign book.

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