Director: Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
Based on a Novel by: William L. Heath
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin
Producer: Buddy Adler
Running Time: 90 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
The booklet included with this new Masters of Cinema release of Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday comes up with an interesting set of modern counterparts for the director in Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. Like they have over the last couple of decades, Fleischer directed a wildly varied number of Hollywood films to equally varied success. He moved from film noirs like Narrow Margin to family adventure movies (Fantastic Voyage) to war epics (Tora! Tora! Tora!) and sci-fi thrillers (Soylent Green). He even made a couple of Schwarzenegger’s 80’s sword and sandal flicks, Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. Some might call him a director for hire with such a collection under his belt, but like Scott and Howard he hit a couple out of the park far enough to prove he had talent and help his name remain relevant.
Violent Saturday is one of his less famous films (even Fleischer barely mentioned it in his autobiography according to the booklet), but over time it has become known as a hidden gem in his oeuvre. It certainly must have caught someone’s attention as it has received the royal Masters of Cinema treatment and director William Friedkin is a big enough fan to have provided a 20 minute interview on it, included in this set.
The film is set in the quiet mining town of Bradenville in Arizona, where three criminals (including a relatively young Lee Marvin) arrive to carefully plot and carry out a quick and supposedly easy bank robbery. Whilst the plan is being refined, we watch the lives of some of the residents of the town and learn that these soon to be victims aren’t all that squeaky clean either. From the peeping Tom bank manager (Tommy Noonan) to the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild’s (Richard Egan and Margaret Hayes) philandering, the locals have plenty of dark secrets. The film’s only ‘hero’ is Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) and he’s considered a coward by the local children due to staying at home to work rather than fighting at Iwo Jima. The bank job sets things straight for all of them though, one way or another.
My personal experience with watching Violent Saturday was marred slightly by my expectations going into the film. From the cover image, title and description I was expecting a tough as nails film noir, but although it has a few noir trappings (and could still be classed as such), it’s more of a dark melodrama tinged with noir and thriller elements. This set me back a bit as I kept latching on to any biting remark or strong female character, expecting the usual acerbic wit and femme fatales I know and love, but then being pulled back for a slower build and plenty of domestic drama. However, once I settled into the tone I realised that in mixing approaches Fleischer created an interesting early neo-noir.
Another aspect which gives an alternate spin on the genre is the fact that most of the film plays out in broad daylight under the blazing Arizona sun. Added to this, the most instantly obvious change from classic noir is the colour cinemascope cinematography. The massively wide frame is beautifully filled with gorgeously lit, colourful imagery. Other than a couple of night scenes, the only noirish aspect to the visuals are the harsh shadows cast by the afternoon sun which are well controlled.
A bit like Fleischer’s career, the plot has a lot of threads to it and these don’t always hit the mark. Shelley’s family scenes for instance are rather sappy and the conclusion a bit corny. Most of the stories in fact are wrapped up a little overly neatly. However, in the build up they are well juggled and make for a uniquely textured experience for what initially seems like a straight forward heist thriller.
Speaking of the heist, this is very well executed. The bank job itself, which doesn’t happen until an hour into the film, is short and sharp, which is how I imagine they would be in reality. The aftermath is exciting too, as Shelley attempts to prove his worth against the criminals in a tense showdown at an Amish barn (run by a slightly wooden Ernest Borgnine). The violence here is swift and impactful despite being blood-free.
Personally, although this is probably down to my misconceptions coming into the film, I would have preferred more focus to go onto the robbery and thriller aspects and less on the melodrama, but each to their own. It certainly makes for an original noir experience. It may feel a little slow paced with so many characters to follow, but it more than holds your interest because of this and is a handsome looking film with some very strong sequences.
Violent Saturday is out on 28th April in the UK on Dual Format Blu-Ray and DVD, released by Eureka (unusually not as part of their Masters of Cinema Series). I watched the Blu-Ray version and it looked stunning. The colours are strong without ever looking over saturated, the natural grain is well handled and the print is clear of any damage. It’s pretty much perfect. The audio is clean and strong too, with two listening options – either 2.0 or 4.0.
There are two main special features, a 20 minute interview with William Friedkin, who is a fan of the film and Fleischer in general, and a 29 minute in-depth look at the film, produced in France called “Mélodrame Policier”.
You also get one of Eureka’s booklets to accompany the discs. This contains a new essay on Fleischer and the film by Adam Batty as well as the original campaign book with some interesting publicity material for the film.
A clip from Violent Saturday: