Richard Fleischer’s caper thriller Violent Saturday emphasizes characters over plot and introspection over the actual heist story. 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 and should be now with this dazzling new Blu-ray transfer to sell its worth.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: MM/DD/2014
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 inevitably 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 in order to stay home and mine copper for the service, 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 is 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 himself and resolutely refuses to disobey his 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 amount of time setting up the film’s exposition showing us the various people whose lives will all culminate in some way with the climactic bank robbery. Many of the people are interesting and unusual 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 are often quite surprising, and the film doesn’t always go where one would expect, a sure sign of something special. Given the Production Code in force at the time, the viewer is also provided some surprises within 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 in his detailing the unhappy and somewhat desperate lives of these ordinary citizens, the last half hour is indeed tension-filled and quite beautifully 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 nice 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 gold digger 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 later 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 barely 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), but Victor Mature provides solid if rather mundane work as the nominal leading man.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The film’s original 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced here in a gorgeously restored 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The old non-anamorphic DVD with its mounds of aliasing and moiré which was previously issued by Twilight Time when Fox offered nothing better fades in the memory when one views this stunning achievement. Superb clarity and detailed sharpness set off with beautifully saturated color and believably appealing skin tones. There are no age-related artifacts at all – no dust specks, debris, or reel change cues – like we had before, and the level of depth in these images brings to mind the excellence of the previous high water mark for Twilight Time with these Fox 1950s Cinemascope titles, The Egyptian. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The film has been outfitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. The directionalized dialogue of the period is present in full force here, and while the surround effects and Hugo Friedhofer’s wonderful music score doesn’t get the same kind of immersive spread through the soundfield that a modern film would get, it’s very representative of 1950s-era stereo soundtracks and is very pleasurable indeed. No age-related artifacts typical of period films mar the listening experience.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Isolated Music Track: Hugo Friedhofer’s wonderfully majestic score is presented in beautiful DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.Audio Commentary: film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman have a typically lively and interesting discussion celebrating the film’s many sterling components. This was recorded directly for this Blu-ray release and is worth the price of the disc.Six-Page Booklet: contains color and black and white stills, theatrical poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic analysis on the film.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
As part of Twilight Time’s limited availability program, only 3,000 copies of the Blu-ray edition 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.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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