Violent Saturday (1955)

Violent Saturday (1955) is a blast of colour at the end of the film noir cycle. 

Cultures rural and urban, religious and criminal, collide in a film that promises violence, and delivers; and which promises thrills in the disruption of our regular programme of Americana.

This Americana may be well delivered under the banner of 'Saturday', as this allows us normality at its most normal.

It's an odd ride, with a heist and some well-sketched small-town life, with the local pervert as randomly drawn as the local religious farmers, in this case captured in a one-off performance for all the ages, by Ernest Borgnine, playing Mr Stadt, the Amish farmer.

The idea is that we are presented with a number of pretty insignificant small-town stories which form the cornerstones of the local into drama a gang decides to rob the local bank. 

We have a father looking for pride in his son's eyes, a bank clerk who is a peeping Tom by night, a man working to re win his wife's love, an Amish farmer played by Ernest Borgnine, who is faced with viciousness and must make a choice between his morality and his way of life, and an older woman turned thief.

All of these loveable Americans find themselves suddenly involved with the bank robbers as a peaceful weekend turns violent.

A minor issue beginning to occur in the film noir cycle on both sides of the Atlantic at this time is the appearance of gangsters in pyjamas in film noir. 

One more serious and continuing issue through the later cycle and the introduction of Color Film Noir is that of framing. 

The first issue with colour film noir as a form or style, is that the fact of the color process itself becomes a virtue. Producers and directors viewed the colour process as something which would add so significant a dimension to any film, that in and of itself, the colour provides spectacle. 

The life of the lonely voyeur
Violent Saturday (1955)

The opening of Violent Saturday as an example, offers spectacular shots of a mining operation, a short sequence culminating in an explosion. The notion here, one of the oldest in filmmaking , is that of spectacle and scale.

Consider the more typical film noir however, in black and white; and consider with it the many framing options available within the style; the framing via the inner monologue in voiceover; the 'newspaper' framing of many films, but possibly most famously Citizen Kane (1941); the story within a story framing, which is regularly extended within the style to a 'story within a story' format, as in for example I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes (1948).

The resulting picture, Violent Saturday is not exactly film noir, and yet it is a part of the landscape. Violent Saturday is a part crime-drama and a part soap opera, and it is down to personal opinion these days how exciting we find it.

In its day, it had a bit of a punch. 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!" 

We have already described the married banker who lusts after a shapely nurse, by perving it up in the alleyways at night; and a librarian with sticky fingers. Within this, Victor Mature is somewhat lost at times, as a man whose oldest child is ashamed that his father never served his country. 

The stories don't really come together, but after a long and at times slightly sluggish crawl, Violent Saturday starts cooking. There are some strong location images, which were filmed in Bisbee, Arizona, and Lee Marvin makes a fantastic entrance, stepping on a child's hand in the street.

Small town sexuality in Violent Saturday (1955)

The notion of framing is perhaps unseen, but remains central to film noir. This means when framing elements are missing, we know we have on our hands, a regular film, a film which may be 'noir' in some respects, but which is not a full-on, bona fide, hat and cigarette toting, shadow-dwelling definitive film noir. A lot of the time it's supressed male sexuality that is framed. 

This Violent Saturday, three men, Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, and J. Carrol Naish have come to town to rob the bank. McNally is the brains of the trio and for reasons of the town's isolation, its small police force, and the fact that the bank is open on Saturday he has decided that this is the place for a stickup. 

A fourth guy, Richey Murray, is staked out at an Amish farm holding the farmer Ernest Borgnine and his family hostage, picked because they have no electricity or modern communication to send up an alarm.

The key moments are the heist itself, which comes together nicely. The widescreen and colour photography come together also, to create a kind of mass spectacle  with various things taking place in different areas of the screen, at times. Cinematically exciting, but  lacking the close-up intimacy of noir, where we see the psychology write across the human face, as opposed to the social element, where individuals and their fates seem less importance.

This is where colour film noir loses its power. It is not necessarily that producers were tied to one particular style before colour processes came in. Film noir was itself an evolution, a method of telling stories and certain types of stories too, and a method that has many different framing options, which take the teller of the story or the viewpoint, and place it at a physical, temporal and / or psychological remove; generating that famous film noir dream feel.

There is another great and minor film noir trope here, which is the criminal with the inhaler... in this case it is Lee Marvin. We do see this from time to time in the cycle, and it is representative of drug addiction, something that was not portrayed in films of the time, and was ill-understood in general by the citizenry and their filmmakers.

Ernest Borgnine as credulity strained, in Violent Saturday (1955)

There are a few common film noir elements that are consequently missing from Violent Saturday. There is no special psychological failing, or dark and fateful journey to the bottom of a social or personal hell. There is no corrupting hand of fate, pulling a hero or anti-hero groundward, no special twist of luck that is going to kick our guy in the neck and call him a loser.

In Violent Saturday there are hoods aplenty, and crime, and there is a fantastic heist sequence, which is the first dramatic purpose of the film. 

The second dramatic end concerns a final boss battle held on an Amish farm, as the corrupted and wicked urban hoods take on the good guy (Victor Mature) and some peaceable Amish folks, in what in itself became a trope in its own right for many movies to come: the violent urban hoods are holed up in a backward rural environment, foolishly underestimating the human courage and provoked limits of their well-meaning and innocent country-bumpkin hosts.

They also under estimate the power of Ernest Borgnine's pitchfork, and this may well have been quite the climactic shock in its day; the title does after all promise violence, and it does erupt rather fast and large.

Violent Saturday on Wikipedia


No comments:

Post a Comment