Luckily, the movie is not a dud. In fact, it’s a movie of startling complexity and depth. Three men blow into town to rob the Bradenville bank: Harper (Stephen McNally), Dill (Lee Marvin), and Chapman (J. Carrol Naish). The robbery is planned for the coming Saturday, which does indeed become a flashpoint for surprisingly intense violence. The film’s title is introduced over a massive (and beautifully photographed) mining explosion; an act of violence perpetrated against nature itself. Bradenville is home to a copper mine run by Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan). He’s one of many troubled, colorful townsfolk we meet throughout—people who easily give the trio of robbers a run for their money in terms of dysfunctionality. In other words, Harper and his henchmen picked the wrong town to mess with. In some ways, these unhappy people already form a powder keg—the bank robbers simply provided a fuse.
Boyd is driven to drink by the knowledge that his wife Emily (Margaret Hayes) is stepping out on him (film historian Julie Kirgo puts it another way in an amusingly frank moment on the commentary track). It leads Boyd to seek some action on the side with a nurse named Linda (Virginia Leith). Seemingly everyone in town hides a shameful secret, whether it’s Bradenville Bank manager Harry Reeves (Tommy Noonan), who takes his adorable cocker spaniel with him on late-night peeping sessions. The local librarian (Sylvia Sidney) has resorted to disgusting acts of thievery in order to pay her bills. Her name is Elsie Braden, but apparently she shares no stake in the Bradenville’s founding fathers’ fortune.
Most poignantly, mine employee Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) received a certificate of recognition for his efforts to mine copper during the war. His son Steve (Billy Chapin) is now old enough to realize a piece of paper pales in comparison to the medals earned by his friends’ fathers. His son’s rejection proves emasculating to Shelley, but his perceived milquetoast persona dovetails nicely with the climactic acts of an Amish patriarch (played rather nondescriptly by Ernest Borgnine). If that last bit sounds out of left field, it is. Director Richard Fleisher and screenwriter Sydney Boehm have more than a few tricks up their sleeves as they build toward the inevitably explosive third act violence that justifies the film’s title.
The slow, methodical talkiness of the 90-minute film’s first hour makes the brutality of the final half hour all the more impactful. My first thought after screening the film was that Fleisher and company were way ahead of their time in crafting something that might’ve influenced David Lynch. The portrayal of moral rot beneath blue, suburban skies in Blue Velvet isn’t at all far removed from what transpires here. I was quite pleased to hear Nick Redman make the same observation during the commentary track. Violent Saturday is a film to watch and rewatch, as its menagerie of corrupt, sad characters and their tortured, twisted relationships only becomes more fascinating when given time to sink in.
I’ve already mentioned the unbelievable restoration presented on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray. The amazingly prolific cinematographer Charles G. Clarke’s work is done full justice here. There’s also a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix, which expands on the original 4.0 theatrical mix (it was also, of course, originally exhibited in mono). It’s always nice when the original mixes are preserved and included, but this surround mix is pretty effective. We also get a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated mix of Hugo Friedhofer’s strikingly dramatic score.
In addition to partaking in the new audio commentary with Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo wrote the liner notes found in the booklet. As part of Twilight Time’s Limited Edition series, only 3,000 copies of Violent Saturday have been released on Blu-ray. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.