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Director: Richard Fleischer
Writer: Sydney Boehm
Cast: Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin
Length: 90 min
Label: Twilight Time
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Essay by Julie Kirgo
- Audio Commentary by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
- Isolated Score
Prior to the 1950s, Richard Fleischer was mainly known for his work within the crime genre. At the start of the 1950s, however, he began to move away from the genre, producing MGM’s first 3-D film Arena, as well as the 1952 comedy Happy Time. Capturing the eye of Walt Disney, Fleischer had his big break in 1954 with the box-office hit 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Interestingly, following the success of 20,000, Fleischer returned to his roots, signing on to direct a film adapted to the screen by Sidney Boehm—from the novel of the same name and written in the same year by William L. Heath—entitled Violent Saturday. While historically overlooked, Fleischer’s film is a marvel, a genre-hybrid meshing the small-town family melodrama with the heist-thriller. The film would even go on to inspire the work of esteemed director William Friedkin. Following their DVD release in 2011, Twilight Time are at it again, vastly improving the release and offering, for the first time ever in North America, Violent Saturday on Blu-Ray.
Refusing to bury the lead, Richard Fleischer begins setting the story in motion from the film’s earliest scenes. In an effective play of crosscutting, Fleischer is able to introduce almost the entire cast of characters—fairly large with at least four primary characters and about a dozen secondary—in a few minutes; no small feat. By the end of the introductory scenes, we have a good idea who our characters are, the small town they live in, how the town operates, and the three mysterious men that have invaded the quaint town. For Violent Saturday, every character’s story is important; while characters introduced early on may seem excessive, even obtrusive to the central heist theme, by the film’s conclusion all of the characters’ stories will culminate in unison.
In fact, to call Violent Saturday a heist film is a bit misleading. In reality, the heist aspect of Violent Saturday is only a small, albeit important, part of the film. The rest of the film, rather, plays out like your typical 1950s American melodrama. The genius of the film comes from the ways in which Richard Fleischer—along with screenwriter Sydney Boehm—weave the melodramatic vignettes into the heist—every story used to build the film’s suspense. By the point of the heist, viewers are so involved in the inner workings of the town’s interpersonal, separate dramas that we have even begun to forget we are watching a thriller at all.In addition to Fleischer’s interpretation of the strong script by Boehm—who also penned Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat, as well as Anthony Mann’s Side Street—Violent Saturday earns its place among the top films of the 1950s by Fleischer and cinematographer Charles G. Clarke’s visual construction of the film’s world. Exploiting elements iconic to both the 1950s melodrama and the film noir, Violent Saturday retains an interesting look. While favoring the high-key lighting of the family melodrama, the film retains a gritty edge, heightened by the aesthetic of cinemascope. The color palette is also manipulated by desaturating some of the more vibrant colors, resulting in an image that favors an earthy atmosphere. This atmosphere assists in driving some of the film’s main themes—in particular its comment on the uncorrupted past, represented through the film’s inclusion of the Amish family. Fleischer’s mark is made known but his visual direction is only one facet of the film’s significance. While Fleischer is deliberate in his visualization, his cast steps up to the challenge of breathing life into the stunning atmosphere. Our readers will surely notice Ernest Borgnine in a role that is eerily similar to his portrayal of Isaiah Schmidt in Wes Craven’s 1981 horror film Deadly Blessing. While Borgnine doesn’t get the screen time to really shine, his role is elevated due to his great penchants for character acting. Despite the fact that his character remains somewhat minor, Lee Marvin, as one of the three heist-men, puts forth a solid, convincing effort. Occupying the typical “mad man” role, conventional to most heist films, Marvin’s Benzedrine addicted portrayal is consistent, emerging as the film’s most memorable antagonist. In addition, Victor Mature (My Darling Clementine) stands in as the film’s principle hero. Mature embodies the proper amount of pathos to have the audience sympathizing with him. A failure in the eyes of his son, his heroic actions are elevated by the opportunity to prove to his son that he is someone important. Finally, Margaret Hayes and Virginia Leith stand in as some of the decades most challenging and important portrayals of female strength. While not completely free from the decade’s more than dominating patriarchal ideology—and certainly their fighting over a man somewhat undermines this statement—the performances allow for a certain three-dimensionality that defies their rather limited roles.
The 2.55:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer, provided by Fox, is a marvel to look at. Don’t let the criticism over the print Twilight Time was given for the 2011 DVD version of Violent Saturday sway you, this newly acquired transfer is a vast improvement. There are no signs of age-related damage to report here. Colors and contrast remain crisp and deep, a faithful representation of the Deluxe Color processing of the time; and the details are sharp, with no remnant of edge enhancement or digital processing. Some may find the colors to appear a bit subdued, but this is more a representation of the coloring of the time, not a result of a faulty transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is as stunning as the video. Again, Twilight Time’s acquisition of the new Fox print allows for a vast improvement from the former DVD. Despite having many of the scenes occur with the inclusion of a large number of people, dialogue, sound effects, and the soundtrack remain distinct, bold, and separated. There is a wide range of tones present, resulting in a faithful and vivacious audio score. No errors or damage can be heard.
Perhaps one of the biggest complaints leveled at Twilight Time comes from their inclusion—or according to their naysayers lack of—special features. While this package isn’t particularly loaded with features, there is something to be said of the mantra less in more. First, there is a greatly appreciated booklet, which includes an essay by Twilight Time regular Julie Kirgo. Kirgo makes a second appearance on the film’s included audio track, joined by Nick Redman. An informal and relaxed discussion, Kirgo and Redman analyze the film and offer their viewpoints on the subtextual meanings the film has to offer. Finally, Twilight Time gives the viewer a chance to listen to the isolated score, conducted by Hugo Friedhofer—presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
Violent Saturday is one of those must-see American films, and unfortunately—while not obscure—the film has fallen under the radar for many. Despite a strong director, cast, cinematographer, and screenwriter, the film has remained a footnote in American cinema, perhaps overshadowed by the more nihilistic heist films of the 1950s (Kubrick’s The Killing, released just a year after, in particular). For those who invested in Twilight Time’s earlier effort, this is a release that is worth the upgrade. It may not be as flashy as some of the products on the market, but Twilight Time have put together an attractive and—most importantly—faithful release of the film for the market. Meshing elements of crime, heist-thiller, and melodrama together, Violent Saturday is a sure-fire win for fans of all the respected genres. Limited to 3,000 copies and distributed solely through Screen-Archives.