Violent Saturday

Posted on November 2nd, 2011 in 1950s, Mystery/Thriller, Lee Marvin, Victor Mature, Richard Fleischer by Colin


Stories about heists that invariably go wrong somewhere along the line have a kind of evergreen quality about them. I don’t think it’s anything as simple as the need to see the moral balance restored that’s the attraction, instead it’s more a kind of perverse wish fulfillment for all of us living in an imperfect world to witness even the most meticulous plans of smart guys turn pear shaped. Violent Saturday (1955) is one such movie, detailing the build-up, execution and aftermath of a bank robbery in a small town. It’s also a film which takes its time creating expectations about certain characters, only to show that those assumptions can frequently be misleading.

Essentially this is a film of two halves. The opening section is something of a darkly soapy melodrama, wherein the principal characters, and their roles in the community, are all established. The two people that are focused on most are Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan), the heir to the local copper mining facility, and the mine foreman Shelley Martin (Victor Mature). These men are living in the brave new world of a booming 50’s America, all shining, chrome-laden automobiles and homes filled with the latest modern conveniences. Yet, despite the trappings of material success that surround them neither man is particularly at ease with himself. Fairchild is drinking too much in an attempt to blot out the inferiority complex that comes with being the son of a self-made millionaire, and keep his mind off the numerous affairs his wife has indulged in. Martin, on the other hand, is carrying round an entirely different set of baggage; his marriage is a happy one and his success is all of his own making but he’s burdened by a sense of guilt for not having seen active service in the war, a feeling of inadequacy compounded by his failure to appear heroic in the eyes of his young son. Additionally, we’re afforded glimpses into the lives of a few of the town’s other citizens - a financially pressed librarian driven to petty larceny, and the outwardly prim but repressed and voyeuristic bank manager. While these various strands of small town life are being laid before us, three strangers weave their way among them. These men (Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin and J Carrol Naish) are career criminals, come to a town they see as a soft touch to raid the bank. As the citizens go about their daily lives and try to cope with their personal issues, the three newcomers calmly and deliberately plan their heist. The second part of the movie, and the most gripping, sees the paths of all the disparate characters converge on a Saturday afternoon in an explosion of physical and emotional violence.

Something for the weekend - Lee Marvin in Violent Saturday.

Director Richard Fleischer’s career was on an upward curve at the time Violent Saturday was made; he’d come off making a number of interesting noir movies, two of which (Armored Car Robbery & The Narrow Margin) are especially noteworthy. While I don’t believe Violent Saturday is film noir, it does display some of the style/genre’s sensibilities - the doomed robbers and the facade of respectability concealing a darker reality. The structure of the film is clearly designed to provide a back story for the characters and flesh them out, thus heightening the impact of the abrupt intrusion of violence into their lives. As far as that goes it’s only partially successful; the introduction of the librarian and the bank manager has a dramatic potential that’s never fully explored, and in the former’s case the the plot leaves her fate dangling and neglected. The banker (Tommy Noonan) does at least play a pivotal role, albeit in a negative way. His creepy passivity undergoes a transformation in the course of the heist and he finally resolves to take some positive action in his life. It’s unfortunate, however, that his new found steel acts as the catalyst for the bloodletting that follows. Victor Mature was well cast in the role of the family man dogged by the shadow of cowardice. There was always an undercurrent of melancholy and sensitivity about him, and the film puts that to good use. He too experiences a reversal of fortune, where adversity reveals an inner strength and toughness whose existence he doubted. Having said that, the message that’s ultimately conveyed by his actions, and the reactions of others to them, isn’t one that sits entirely comfortably with me. Of the three criminals, both McNally and Naish perform competently without ever being particularly memorable. The real star is Lee Marvin. Dapper in appearance and ruthless in behaviour, he gets the better lines and makes the most of them. It says a lot for Marvin’s talents that he could take what was basically a minor supporting role and deliver the most telling performance in the whole movie. It’s also worth mentioning that Ernest Borgnine has a small, and incongruous, part as an Amish farmer who finds himself and his family drawn into the turbulent events.

To date, Violent Saturday has had three releases on DVD (in Spain, the US and Australia), none of which appear ideal. All of these discs offer the film a non-anamorphic scope transfer. The Spanish release is via Fox/Impulso and, the letterboxing aside, sees the movie looking quite nice. The lack of anamorphic enhancement does take away from the overall sharpness of the image but, on the plus side, the colours look strong and true, and the print doesn’t suffer from any significant damage. Extras, as on the majority of Fox/Impulso titles, consist of some text-based material on cast and crew along with a gallery. Subtitles on the English track can of course be disabled via the menu. The movie itself is a solid crime drama that builds nicely to a suspenseful and action-filled conclusion. It’s not quite top flight material, but it’s not too far off either. I’d rate it as a smoothly directed piece of entertainment that could have used a little extra polish on the script.

8 Responses to 'Violent Saturday'

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  1. Dafydd Jones said,

    on November 6th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    I own the Twilight Time US release of this and it’s a perfectly acceptable disc.It’s a pity about the lack of anamorphic scope of course but, for a letterbox transfer, this one looks OK. Marvin is certainly memorable in this one Colin (so is the nasal decongestant thingy that he’s constantly sniffing!) although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s the ‘real star’. He was a scene-stealer throughout his career but I didn’t get that impression quite as strongly in this one as I did (for example) in “Seven Men From Now”.
    The combination of melodrama and thriller, to which you refer, was the interesting aspect of “Violent Saturday” for me. I felt I was watching “Peyton Place” during the first half….and then, suddenly, that bank robbery happens and a harsh change in tone.
    An enjoyable 1950s thriller and I love the way that the scope screen was used to its full potential in those days.

  2. Livius said,

    on November 7th, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Having always been a fan of Lee Marvin, I suppose I tend to be a little biased towards him. Still, I find his role one of the more memorable aspects of the movie.

    And yes, these early scope films are almost always visually impressive.

  3. Blake Lucas said,

    on November 9th, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Like Dafydd, the combination of melodrama and crime thriller makes this movie very distinctive and memorable for me. It’s hard to think of another that combines these two genres in their 50s aspect the way this one does. I’ve seen it a number of times since first release and always liked it.

    For me, this period up through BARABBAS in 1962 is Richard Fleischer’s best and includes more of his best movies, over a range of genres, than any other. When he made 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA just before this, he really took to CinemaScope and stayed with it through this period and always uses it beautifully. VIOLENT SATURDAY is a great example, especially as he is balancing and integrating different narrative threads, and often within the same intricately composed wide shots.

    I agree Lee Marvin jumps out in his role though believe everyone else is very good as well–I’ve always like Victor Mature, Richard Egan too, and Virginia Leith is a beauty.
    Though he could always be good, and sometimes suppressed his flamboyance to good effect when he became a star, I consider Lee Marvin’s first period as a supporting actor to be his best. He often stands out and in a lot of good films, but SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is surely the best role of his career, especially for the brilliant scene inside the wagon where he tells the story–he sure didn’t phone that one in.

  4. Livius said,

    on November 9th, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Yes Blake, I’d say Fleischer had matured as a director by this point. His earlier stuff, with the exception of those I mentioned in the main text, was a bit hit and miss.

    I thought Victor Mature was a good actor in general, although I have mentioned before that I’ve never really taken to him in western roles. In pretty much every other genre though I’d say he mostly gave value for money.

    And, as both yourself and Dafydd have stated, Lee Marvin’s role in Seven Men from Now is a phenomenal piece of work.

  5. Blake Lucas said,

    on November 9th, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Though I don’t especially think of him with Westerns, my favorite performance of Mature is in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, so I have to say he was fine for the genre in the right role.

    Want to add that if we justly praise Lee Marvin for his SEVEN MEN FROM NOW role as Masters, I don’t believe any of us means to slight Burt Kennedy’s writing and Budd Boetticher’s direction which made it possible, especially in that interior wagon scene. Just to say that Marvin himself contributed an equal share of brilliance in making that character great and I know they’d be the first to agree.

  6. Livius said,

    on November 9th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Seven Men from Now is one of those instances when the collaborative efforts of cast and crew just gelled perfectly.

    Boetticher and Kennedy, as well as Scott and Russell, must take the credit for making the movie what it is, and for creating the framework within which Marvin’s acting could shine. The wagon scene works so well due to Kennedy’s dialogue, Boetticher’s direction and Scott and Russell’s reactions - all of which ensure that Marvin’s provocative tale has such an impact.

  7. John Hodson said,

    on November 13th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Marvin better in Seven Men From Now than in Point Blank? Hell In The Pacific? Emperor of The North? Monte Walsh? Or The Killers? Not sure… ‘lady; I haven’t got time…’

    I’d kill for a beautiful anamorphic release of Violent Saturday (despite the politics); there lots of stuff here that influenced quite few films down the line.

  8. Livius said,

    on November 13th, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Marvin’s career is full of great stuff though, isn’t it? It’s always hard in such cases to pin down what’s the best, and his later roles saw him taking centre stage much more. Of those early supporting parts, Seven Men from Now does stand out prominently.

    As for an anamorphic copy of Violent Saturday, there have been three bites at the cherry now and still show. I doubt it will happen, and that’s a real pity.

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