Eureka have returned to their Eureka Classics label with the release of two titles, the first was The War Lord following that is Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday, a spiritual companion to the recent release of Don Siegel’s The Killers and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. This 1955 film is one of the early examples of neo-noir, but instead of the harsh vernacular and austere world view employed in their golden age, Violent Saturday is concerned with other means of expressing itself. On the Blu-ray, French Connection director William Friedkin describes Fleischer’s film as equal parts melodrama and film noir, just as much a family drama as heist picture.
The director and his screenwriter Sydney Boehm, set up a sense of community in the small Arizonan mining town of Bradenville. As a trio of thieves scout their target, we join a father who is dealing with his son’s image of post-war masculinity, a marriage hitting the rocks, a light-fingered librarian and a bank manager with wandering eyes. Inevitably these lives are violently impacted by the storm brewing in their community, as the title openly suggests. The establishment of a community is the difference maker; character development gives the eventual heist a more palpable sense of danger. When characters face unfortunate circumstances there is a weight to the film, whether that weight is borrowed by a sense of protecting your favourites or seeing someone get what they deserve, those ups and downs elevate Fleischer’s film considerably.
This eventually becomes a double-edged sword, as for every plot beat and mini resolution that hits its tone perfectly there is a subsequent moment that undercuts it. A particular case in point is the climactic gun fight, and although it is well staged it’s soon followed by a scene in a hospital room where Shelley Martin’s (Victor Mature) son gains a new-found respect from his friends because of what his father did – it’s here where the tacky side of the melodramatic spectrum appears. 1955 or not, Violent Saturday ends badly.
While there are no great performances, there is a great cast. Victor Mature gives a handsy performance, a stereotypical 1950s man if you will. Ernest Borgnine appears briefly as an Amish father and Lee Marvin gets a strangely small role for such a pivotal character. Yet, while none of these could be described as strong performances, they are at the very least colourful appearances by colourful icons. As the name suggests, noir is not known for its adventurous colour palette, as a rule of thumb directors and cinematographers tend to use colour as a visual representation of decay or corruption. There are no such concerns here – Bradenville is a perfectly content corner of suburbia. With that contrariness it has given the film makers the perfect platform to do something refreshing. The CinemaScope imagery is stunning, capturing the gorgeous geography of Arizona. With the added clarity of the Blu-ray presentation we are talking about a seriously pretty film from Eureka Classics. While no film-noir classic, Violent Saturday is a solidly entertaining heist picture that carries on the great name of Eureka onto their next great endeavour.