Richard Fleischer shot some audacious twists at the traditional noir with Violent Saturday. The first thing you’ll notice is how sunny and colorful his imagery and expansive his use of ultra widescreen vistas are. Scenes that may have taken place in a shadowy factory or seedy pool hall in another picture go down in broad desert landscapes and bucolic golf courses in Violent Saturday. Even more striking is the film’s structure. Fleischer spends the first hour of this ninety-minute film shaking his jigsaw puzzle pieces out onto the carpet. We meet a man (Victor Mature) whose son (great child actor Billy Chapin the same year he starred in The Night of the Hunter) is ashamed of him for failing to become a war hero. There’s a trio of hoods (Stephen McNally, forties monster-movie staple J. Carrol Naish, and king of the charismatic tough guys, Lee Marvin) plotting some sort of caper. A drunk (Richard Egan) is at odds with his wife (Margaret Hayes). A nebbish peeping tom (Tommy Noonan) peeps on a comely nurse (Virginia Leith, unforgettable as the verbose disembodied head in The Brain That Would Not Die) and has a run-in with an acerbic shoplifter (Sylvia Sydney, who’d become Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin’s caseworker in Beetlejuice three decades later). Ernest Borgnine is an Amish patriarch.
Not until the final half hour do we find out how all these puzzle pieces fit together. That’s when Violent Saturday lives up to its title, and quite shockingly so. Those of us who’ve seen a noir or two can certainly figure out where certain characters are headed, but others take surprising turns, and while taking violent actions may make heroes of some, others have no choice but to wrestle with the moral implications of what they’ve done. A heavily melodramatic tone adds extra flavor to an already complex genre picture, making Violent Saturday play out like The Killing if Douglas Sirk had directed it instead of Stanley Kubrick.
Twilight Time presents Violent Saturday in all its vivid, widescreen grandeur. The blu-ray looks fabulous without any significant blemishes. An isolated score and new booklet essay and commentary, both by Twilight Time’s house historian Julie Kirgo, supplement the disc. Get it at Screenarchives.com here.