Violent Saturday (1955)

 

Directed by Richard Fleischer
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke

Violent Saturday is a 1955 American crime drama directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Victor Mature, Lee Marvin, Richard Egan and Stephen McNally. The film, set in a mining town, depicts the planning of a bank robbery as the nexus in the personal lives of several townspeople.

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Harper (Stephen McNally) is a bank robber posing as a traveling salesman. He arrives in town, soon to be joined by sadistic benzedrine addict Dill (Lee Marvin) and bookish Chapman (J. Carrol Naish).

Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan) is manager of the local copper mine, troubled by his philandering wife (Margaret Hayes). He considers an affair with nurse Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith), though he truly loves his wife. His associate, Shelley Martin (Victor Mature), has a happy home life, but is embarrassed that his son believes he is a coward because he did not serve in World War II.

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Subplots involves a peeping-tom bank manager, Harry Reeves (Tommy Noonan), and a larcenous librarian, Elsie Braden (Sylvia Sidney). As the bank robbers carry out their plot, the separate character threads are drawn together. Violence erupts during the robbery. Fairchild’s wife is slain and bank manager Reeves is wounded. Martin is held hostage on a farm with an Amish family. With the help of the father (Ernest Borgnine), he defeats the crooks in a savage gunfight. In the aftermath, Martin becomes a hero to his son, and Linda comforts Fairchild as he grieves for his wife.

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More than a Crime Drama

8 November 2001 | by Julie (lauloi) (Northeast America) – See all my reviews

“Violent Saturday” was not an outstanding movie, nor very original, but that is not to say that it had no merit. Richard Fleischer’s direction goes much farther than skin-deep. From one angle, “Violent Saturday” is about a hold-up and the normal guy (Victor Mature) who tries to stop the criminals. That’s fine, and there are some very exciting moments toward the end of the film. But another angle is more interesting: it’s a study of what normal small-town-folks do in secret. Indeed, in comparison to the unscrupulous dealings of a voyeuristic bank manager, a larcenous librarian, and a trampy wife and her alcoholic husband, the sadistic bad guys (including a memorable Lee Marvin) seem less sinister. In its studies of the dynamics between husband and wife, parent and child, and its Everyman hero and hard-bitten villains, “Violent Saturday” is half a tribute to noir tradition, half a fifties family-drama. The mixture is sometimes uneasy. Particularly annoying are the conversations between doofy dad Mature and his cute little son who wishes his dad was more of a hero. But the drama between the weirder citizens of the little town is intriguing. A masterful use of the camera and Hugo Friedhofer’s strident score are other assets. All in all, “Violent Saturday” is worth a look.

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Great Cinematography

8/10
Author: Terence Hartnett from United States
28 July 2008

The wide-screen format was at most only two years old when this film was made. Yet, Charles G. Clarke’s shot composition in the new wide-screen format is beautiful. This alone makes the film worth watching.

This is a good example of a color film noir; perhaps not as good as Niagara (1953) or Leave her to Heaven (1945), which were made by the same studio by the way (20th Century Fox), but still a good example from the noir cycle in color.

One way to understand film noir is that it is simply violent melodrama. Look at The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) for example. Violent Saturday (1955) is steeped in melodrama, but there is also some extraordinary violence. And the violence here–in typical noir fashion–is the resolution–however bleak–to some of the melodramatic conflict.

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The film has a profound cynicism grinding beneath the surface of the beautiful color photography. And this cynicism remains at the end of the film.

If you haven’t seen this film and you are interested in film noir or film of this period, then I would highly recommend the Violent Saturday.

Slick Vic, Snortin’ Lee Plus Ernest Borgnine and His Pitchfork

7/10
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
20 July 2002

This is a dizzyingly silly fifties crime pic, very watchable, with some capable actors in small roles. Some of the behind-the-scenes people have done some fine work elsewhere, notably director Richard Fleischer and screenwriter Sid Boehm.

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There’s a touch of The Asphalt Jungle in the caper aspect, while Victor Mature’s businessman-father-who-didn’t-serve-in the-war is out of Stanley Kramer or maybe Studio One. Richard Egan tries ever so hard to bring conviction, and does, to his flashy role of a rich boy alcoholic weakling, but doesn’t have the chops to pull the part off. (I can imagine someone like Richard Baeshart might have done better, and even got an Oscar nod had been been cast.) The bad guys, a sinister-looking but bland Steve McNally, a menacing Lee Marvin, and a sometimes jovial J. Carrol Naish, do decent work.

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The small-town that provides the background for the crime is populated by such hick types as Sylvia Sidney and Tommy Noonan. Nothing about this movie is credible. Everything takes place in a Hollywood-manufactured world, not in itself a bad thing except that the picture makes a serious stab at realism, which is a fatal aesthetic flaw, since the story would have worked better on a smaller scale, in black and white, or on a bigger, more artificial one. The slice-of-life character study part of the picture suggests a small-town Executive Suite, while the examination of the hypocrisies and oddities of Middle America evoke the yet-to-be-made Picnic. There’s deja vu all over the place in this one, though to the best of my knowledge Ernest Borgnine had never played an Amish farmer before.

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“Stick ’em in your kisser, son…now go over there and suck on ’em.”

7/10
Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
14 March 2009

Combination crime-thriller and soap opera, presumably a contract picture from Fox with many familiar faces (and Ernest Borgnine inexplicably cast as an Amish farmer!), turns out to be a pretty exciting movie. Three hoods plot to stick up a small town bank; meanwhile, hormones are boiling over at the new copper plant where the foreman’s son is drinking himself into a stupor while his cheating wife runs around on the golf course (“You’re an alcoholic,” she tells him, “and I’m a tramp!”). There’s also a married banker who lusts after a shapely nurse, a librarian with sticky fingers, and Victor Mature as a graduate whose oldest child is ashamed that his father never served his country.

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Director Richard Fleischer sets up the pieces of this story carefully, almost sluggishly, yet after about an hour of exposition the plot really starts cooking. There are some strong images here, and vivid cinematography by Charles G. Clarke (with excellent location shooting in Bisbee, Arizona and terrific usage of De Luxe color stock). The ensemble cast works admirably together, no one person upstaging the other, however crooked Lee Marvin makes a fantastic entrance into town stepping on a child’s hand in the street!

Gripping, tense, and surprisingly well-written, with Richard Egan getting an emotional monologue at the end about the unfairness of death. An injured Amish child is forgotten about in the rush of excitement, and Borgnine in an Abraham Lincoln beard strains credulity, but the technical aspects and direction of the film are top-notch. *** from ****

A Typical Saturday in Small Town USA

6/10
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
24 August 2008

“Violent Saturday” is like a tricked-out CinemaScope (2.55:1) version of “Desperate Hours”, both films were released in 1955. Add in a lot of the small town angst (“Picnic” and “Payton Place”) that 1950’s moviegoers were seeking for some reason.

Richard Egan, Steven McNally, and Victor Mature are the featured actors in a large cast of character actors who were not likely to generate much action at the box office. Whether by coincidence or design the three look very much alike with the same lack of subtlety in their acting techniques. If this casting unity was by design, the interchangeability might be intended to convey the same quality in the three characters; implying how it is fate that determines who becomes a criminal, a coward, and a hero. And maybe not.

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Director Richard Fleischer and screenwriter Sid Boehm have made an entertaining picture that moves along nicely until the wheels fall off in its climatic action scene. The bank robbery itself is more Hitchcock McGuffin than central focus; mostly it is in the story to provide some motivational elements for the overwrought melodrama and as a way to pull back out of the muck of petty small town life for brief periods. It is certainly anti-climatic. This is mostly due to inconsistencies in the scripting of Ernest Borgnine’s character, plus some extremely lame action elements. But this was not a film noir feature so much as a pontification to the Hays Code and the need to artificially inject some “crime does not pay” comeuppance into a story that should have stuck to its “post-WWII veterans vs those who did not serve” theme.

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Tommy Noonam, Sylvia Sidney, and Egan are actually quite good. It was a good part for Egan whose tendency to seem disconnected from his material serves him well in this part. His final scene outside the hospital is extraordinary; by far the best material in the whole screenplay and a nice reflection on Fleischer’s acting for the camera direction.

Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.

Peyton Place’s Bank Was Robbed

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
22 November 2009

The town of Bradenville is in for a Violent Saturday because three men, Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, and J. Carrol Naish have come to town to rob their bank. McNally is the brains of the trio and for any number of reasons including the town’s isolation, small police force, and the fact that the bank is open on Saturday until noon have made him determine this is the place for a stickup. He’s even got a fourth guy Richey Murray staked out at an Amish farm holding the farmer Enest Borgnine and his family hostage, picked because of its isolation and the fact they have no electricity or modern communication to send up an alarm.

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But this is some town Bradenville, while we see the bank robbers carefully timing out their job, we also get a glimpse of Bradenville’s citizenry. Quite a little Peyton Place that town is.

Richard Fleischer as director managed to skilfully combine a soap opera and a crime caper film and it works. The script is very tight, not one frame of film is wasted. We get any number of interesting side stories in the 90 minute time of the film that do not detract in any way from the caper portion.

Victor Mature is the nominal hero of the piece, he gets carjacked and kidnapped, but proves to be a bit more than the robbers can handle. Ernest Borgnine stands out in the cast as the Amish father who has to question the pacifist tenets of his faith to protect his home and family.

A little bit of noir, a little bit of soap opera mixed very well in a good thriller of a film in Violent Saturday.

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Critical reception

The New York Times did not approve of the violence of the movie. Critic Bosley Crowther called the movie an “unedifying spectacle,” while praising the performance of Lee Marvin as a hood “so icily evil he is funny.” Borgnine’s performance was panned by Crowther as “a joke.”

More recent reviewers have been favorable. In a 2008 article, the Village Voice called it “the reigning king of Southwestern noir.” The New York Press said “Violent Saturday seems rooted in tradition, but as an exciting pulp story with a profound center, it manages to break all the rules.” George Robinson in Cine-Journal wrote, “With the possible exception of The Narrow Margin, this is Richard Fleischer’s best film. . . . Great, nasty fun.” Michael Sragow of The New Yorker said, “Packed with twists and surprises. Marvin proves most unsettling as a hard guy who’s always snorting from an inhaler (it’s psychosomatic: he once had a wife with a perpetual cold). Mature, with his stricken manliness, reminds you of why James Agee thought he would be perfect as Diomed in Troilus and Cressida.”

Similarities between Violent Saturday and Peter Weir‘s 1985 movie Witness have been observed.

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