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Violent Saturday DVD Review



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#1 of 4 Matt Hough

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Posted August 01 2011 - 09:48 AM

Richard Fleischer’s caper thriller Violent Saturday emphasizes characters over plot and introspection over the actual heist. It’s one of the most unusual of the domestic dramas involving crime that turned up in the 1950s (The Desperate Hours has got it beat but not by much), and it features an eye-opening cast of veterans sometimes playing out of their comfort zone and to very good effect. This is a film that deserves to be much better known.



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Violent Saturday
Directed by Richard Fleischer

Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Year: 1955


Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 letterbox
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
Subtitles: none


MSRP: $ 19.99



Release Date: now available

Review Date: August 1, 2011



The Film

4/5


Three men (Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish, Lee Marvin) arrive in Bradenville, Arizona, with the intention of robbing the local bank. The caper seems so foolproof that the majority of the film’s running time allows us to get to know various other citizens of the town who will directly or indirectly figure in the robbery. Millionaire copper mine heir Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan) is an alcoholic frustrated by a business he doesn’t care about and a wife (Margaret Hayes) who’s the town tramp. Shelly Martin (Victor Mature), who was denied entrance into the army during World War II, is trying to explain to disappointed son Stevie (Billy Chapin) that not all men can be heroes and that bravery can be attributed to many different aspects of a man’s life. Elsie Braden (Sylvia Sidney) is behind on her loan payments and driven to desperation to find money to pay bank manager Harry Reeves (Tommy Noonan) who has sent her the last official notification of the amount due before he begins a lien on her librarian salary. But Reeves has his own problems trapped in a loveless marriage and fixated on local nurse Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith) to the extent that he’s practically stalking her. Meanwhile, outside town, an Amish family led by quiet but stern Brother Stadt (Ernest Borgnine) keeps to themselves and resolutely refuse to disobey their religion’s strictures against modern conveniences and to honor biblical precepts to the letter.


Writer Sydney Boehm and director Richard Fleischer take a long and leisurely time setting up the film’s exposition showing us the various people whose lives will all culminate in some way in the climactic bank robbery. Many of the people are interesting enough that the film could easily have become a slice-of-life drama and left the bank robbery out entirely (two of the three robbers, however, are so complex that the film could have focused just on them but that would have kept us from really fascinating people like Nurse Sherman or the miserably unhappy Boyd Fairchild). The ways some of these lives get intertwined in the crime, however, are quite surprising, and the film doesn’t always go where one would expect. Given the Production Code in force at the time also provides some surprises in the events which transpire. There is almost an hour of set-up before the robbery plan moves into first gear, and while director Fleischer maybe paces the film a bit too ploddingly early on, the last half hour is indeed tension-filled and quite nicely staged and shot. There is a real feel for small town life that’s overt here (too many people are aware of too many other people’s business) and gives the film a daring bit of edge.


Richard Egan gives a marvelous performance as the sad millionaire whose money doesn’t bring him any happiness, and he’s matched by the excellent work of Virginia Leith, a fresh and winning performance that isn’t the expected golddigger or uptight woman ready to let her hair down. Tommy Noonan is perhaps a bit too creepy as the obsessed bank manager, but Sylvia Sidney steals all of her scenes as the distressed librarian including a terrific face-off with Noonan in an alley and getting an unexpected comeuppance in the bank during the robbery. Lee Marvin as the sadist with a perpetual head cold etches an unforgettable portrait of constrained menace while J. Carrol Naish matches him in individuality as the humorless thug with something of a heart for children. Ernest Borgnine restrains himself mightily as the man-of-few-words Amish farmer (this was the same year he’d win the Oscar for Marty, and he also had a bad guy part in Bad Day at Black Rock giving him a virtuoso trio of roles for the year), but Victor Mature provides solid if rather mundane work as the nominal leading man.



Video Quality

3/5


The film’s theatrical Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully produced on the disc. Fox had on hand only a nonanamorphic letterboxed transfer, so that is what Twilight Time has issued on this disc. The vast amount of aliasing and moiré patterns are a direct result of the older, nonanamorphic encode, but apart from this and some random dust specks and the reel change markers, the image quality is surprisingly good. Sharpness is excellent (only one shot late in the film goes wildly out of focus for a few seconds), and colors are nicely saturated. Flesh tones are quite true to life. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.



Audio Quality

4/5


The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix is a first-rate encode with directionalized dialogue throughout and Hugo Friedhofer’s driving, majestic score given a winning stereo treatment through the available soundstage channels. There are no age-related artifacts such as hiss or pops or crackle to spoil the mix either. It’s a fine job all around.



Special Features

1.5/5


The isolated score track, as has been the case on all of the Twilight Time releases, is a splendid stereophonic experience and admirers of the composer or of this particular score will be quite happy to have this available.


Researcher Julie Kirgo has provided interesting liner notes within the enclosed seven-page booklet which also contains wonderful color and black and white stills and the print ad for the movie on the back cover.



In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)


As part of Twilight Time’s limited availability program, only 3,000 copies of Violent Saturday are available. Those interested in experiencing this little-seen melodrama with noir overtones should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Twilight Time is also locatable via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies .



Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 4 Robin9

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Posted August 02 2011 - 05:22 AM

A good review. You have summarised the movie well. I certainly agree about Virginia Leith who was also pretty good in A Kiss Before Dying. What a pity her career at Fox did not make better progress.

#3 of 4 Charles Smith

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Posted August 03 2011 - 12:58 AM

Reminded and inspired by this review, I finally popped the DVD in the other night, having never seen this or even known about it before this release came around.  Wow, what a find!  I love the look and the setting and the overall tone of the film.  I have to confess I'm not really familiar with the sound of Friedhofer but this score is fantastic.  I wish there were more of it!  I say that because it seemed like there was less scoring in the latter parts of the film than in the earlier parts, and I missed that wonderful urgency and lushness I'd been thrilling to earlier.  One or two passages were almost Herrmann-esquely exotic.


I thought the directionalized dialogue was a bit odd.  Sometimes it sounded to me like each person was in a different acoustic.


And what a disappointment to have to view it non-anamorphically.  There's no way I'm not zooming any such widescreen film to 16x9, but the distractions... holy moley.  I think my Panasonic BD player normally does an amazing job with DVDs, and my screen is the 50" VT25, so what a letdown.  But this runs the gamut, because I have some older non-anamorphic DVDs that look totally acceptable or even quite impressive when zoomed, not to mention some laserdiscs that likewise look a thousand times better than others played on this setup.  I suppose it's all in the quality of the transfer.  Nevertheless, I'm thrilled to have Violent Saturday and I look forward to a second viewing soon.



#4 of 4 marsnkc

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Posted August 04 2011 - 03:37 PM

Everything I want lately is either Criterion, MOD or limited editions like this. Sure makes one appreciate how spoiled we were with the prices charged for regular DVD pressings from the majors. I'd never heard of Twilight Time until, by coincidence, I read RAH's review of The Egyptian earlier today and felt the sticker shock when I got around to ordering the BD. I wish I didn't want this, but I do. I haven't seen everything Richard Fleischer has ever done, but what I have are beauts.