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Violent Saturday (DVD Review)

9 May, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Virginia Leith, Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine.

There’s something about seeing Lee Marvin use a nose inhaler in early CinemaScope that’s guaranteed to stay in the memory. Especially when there’s a throwaway line of dialogue here that indicates his character may be addicted, which would suggest that the nasal crutch he’s using is one of those Benzedrine jobs that people all but used to suck on in the ‘50s. Lee is pretty jumpy here, come to think.

The bank robber he plays joins J. Carrol Naish and the ever-malevolent Stephen McNally in a small-town heist, which is a pretext for exposing a whole slew of small-town peccadilloes that movies began to expose around the middle of that decade: kleptomania (here, it’s librarian Sylvia Sidney), peeping-tom-ism (bank officer Tommy Noonan) and the country club brand of nymphomania (Margaret Hayes). And we haven’t even gotten to the main actors yet — though their characters are pretty straight, aside from the one time Richard Egan goes on an industrial-strength bender.

Tight (91 minutes), slight and a decent time at the movies, Saturday (which I was dying to see at age 7 but couldn’t find a way to finagle it) is the second 20th Century Fox deep library title to be limited-released under the once-a-month banner of a new enterprise called Twilight Time. The movie lovers who run it are invading the Fox vaults (which, unlike the one in the bank here, doesn’t have a time lock), and their launch release The Kremlin Letter (John Huston; 1970) got a crisp transfer last month. The one here has excellent color values but isn’t anamorphically enhanced, apparently because the right elements weren’t available. If you zoom it up on a wide TV screen, the picture fuzzes out and looks a lot like widescreen Fox movies do on the execrable Fox Movie Channel (that is, not quite right). There’s also a brief but bad glitch during the robbery itself, around the 58-minute mark, where the image basically “melts” for a few seconds.

Twilight Time has admirably acknowledged the problem (the alternative was not to release it), and certainly this Saturday rendering is more than just watchable because director Richard Fleischer (generally not a favorite of mine) made its frequently outdoor settings look mighty handsome. According to the AFI Catalog for the 1950s, the film was mostly shot in a couple Arizona towns in December of 1954 — and when you see the cast walking around as if it were a bright spring baseball day, you understand why so many people gravitate to the Southwest. The vistas are in compelling contrast to the seaminess that pervades the story, which predictably offended the late film critic and resident prig Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. Why is it that 30 years after Crowther’s death, knowledgeable film folk still yearn to give him a wedgie?

Saturday’s hero turns out to be the mining company employee played by Victor Mature, taking one of his breathers from the religious spectacles and Howard Hughes RKO potboilers that constituted much of his employment in the early 1950s. Mature’s young son (Billy Chapin) is ashamed that dad’s job in a crucial copper industry kept him from serving in World War II — and this being the ‘50s, there’s a lot of “my pop has a bigger one than your pop’s” playground sentiment. Well, Vic will get his chance.

This is a fabulous movie for 1955 cross-referencing. Right around this same time, busty Hayes (as a teacher) was hot-and-bothering Glenn Ford’s class of high-school imbeciles in Blackboard Jungle. Young Chapin was just about to appear in his greatest role: as Robert Mitchum’s wise-to-him stepson in Night of the Hunter. By virtue of casting Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer in a Lee Marvin pic (Ernie with a tiny beard remains a sight), one can’t watch this movie without thinking of the previous January’s Bad Day at Black Rock, though Borgnine’s role couldn’t be much different unless you flash forward to The Vikings. And Borgnine’s Oscar winner Marty (more contrast) also opened the same month Saturday did.

The nurse who captures Egan’s eye when he’s drunk is played by Virginia Leith, whose screen debut came in Stanley Kubrick’s disowned and tough-to-see Fear and Desire (his first film as well). Fox signed Leith but didn’t keep her along very long, possibly because her throaty voice didn’t project very well. This is probably her best “straight” performance (a very sympathetic one, too), though she will always be remembered for 1962’s severed-head camp fest The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Which is true: even the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” crew couldn’t kill it.

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