Release Date(s)1955 (July 8, 2014)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Richard Fleischer’s noir-ish, character-driven crime drama Violent Saturday was released in 1955 by 20th Century Fox in the fairly new CinemaScope film format. The film’s assorted cast featured Victor Mature, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Margaret Hayes, Sylvia Sidney, and Virginia Leith, among others. The film tells the stories of several different people living in a small town prior to a bank robbery in which they are all involved somehow and how it affects them afterwards.
Violent Saturday, as a concept, is certainly more modern in style than many of its contemporaries at the time. It sounds more like the plot of a mid-90-’s post Pulp Fiction knock-off. The idea of following separate character threads for most of the film and eventually intertwining them was something that Hollywood films didn’t do too often, especially when the eventual destination was a violent showdown of sorts. And these characters are not all good, clean, honest Americans who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One is a bit of a kleptomaniac, another is a drunkard with a promiscuous wife, and another is a peeping tom. These aspects helped to make them slightly less two dimensional, but not to an enormous degree. The only characters with any kind of redeeming value are those of Victor Mature’s and Ernest Borgnine’s. Mature is painted as a family man back from the military service where he jockeyed a desk instead of fighting in the war, something which causes his son some grief on the playground. It comes down to him eventually having to wage his own war, in a way. Counter to him is Borgnine’s character, an Amish man whose beliefs prevent him from committing violence, but at a cost. This dynamic between these two characters is perhaps the most interesting in the film, contained in what is certainly the most exciting portion of the film.
I say that because, despite myself being a bit of a film lover who craves deeper characters in the movies that he watches with less on the surface characteristics, I found the entire first hour of the movie a bit of a drag. The characters are set up to have some sort of depth, but that depth feels hollow, or rather very “Hollywood” in execution. They doesn’t feel as gritty or as realistic as they should, especially considering that these characters don’t have any tremendous effect on one another. They feel more like sketches of characters with one particular trait, rather than something truly deep. For instance, we never know the identity of the peeping tom’s wife, nor do we come into any contact with her. There’s never any real threat to him because of this flaw. Not that that flaw has to be severely tragic, but it needs to carry some more weight to it than hardly any weight at all. The film doesn’t really get interesting until the robbery takes place, which is over an hour into the proceedings, and that’s a shame.
Violent Saturday has a good idea, but unfortunately, it doesn’t come to full fruition because of how thin the characters and their relationships with each other are. The robbery itself and its eventual aftermath are what make this film worth watching. That entire section is suspenseful and entertaining. It almost feels like another movie in a way. It’s also not as violent one might think. Considering the film’s pulp origins (it was based upon a novel by William L. Heath), Violent Saturday is probably an incorrect title. Still, there’s plenty of strong visual elements to the film and an exciting third act, but underdeveloped characters hampers the film’s running time considerably.
Twilight Time’s transfer of Violent Saturday presents it in its original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1, which for those who don’t know, was a process by which a 2.35:1 print was shot and then stretched horizontally when projected in the theater. Because of this, it creates what are called CinemaScope ‘mumps,’ meaning that objects, or in this case the actors’ faces, appear fatter than they really are. This transfer recreates the theatrical projection, and because of that, you’ll find some slight cropping around the edges, particularly on the left and right, than you would on previous home video releases (which were framed at 2.35:1). That being noted, there’s an evenly distributed layer of film grain on display that’s never intrusive. Image detail is fantastic, especially with background elements and facial textures. Color, while taking on a bit of a brownish haze, is recreated faithfully and fully. Black and contrast levels are excellent, offering some substantial shadow detail. And there seems to have been no attempt to digitally enhance the images, nor is there any major film damage leftover that gets in the way.
The soundtrack is presented as an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. The film’s original soundtrack featured four track stereo, but has been recreated in a wider soundscape here. Personally, I would have preferred the original soundtrack, but this 5.1 track is still quite good. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and the sound effects definitely have some boost to them in the surrounding speakers. The score, as well, has plenty of room to breathe. Fidelity is excellent, and while there isn’t an enormous amount of speaker to speaker activity, the surrounds definitely have some ambience and low end boost to them at times. Unfortunately, this release doesn’t come with any accompanying subtitles.
As for the extras selection, there’s an audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, a separate isolated score audio track in 2.0 DTS-HD, a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue, and an insert booklet with a 6-page essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.
Violent Saturday was a film that wasn’t received very well by critics when first released, but with the passage of time, it has grown in estimation in many people’s mind. The latter part of the film is the ultimate payoff for seeing it in the first place, if indeed you haven’t seen it previously. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release sports a transfer fine enough to rectify that.
- Tim Salmons