|'The events in Bradenville feel too parochial to really resonate; you’ll likely find it hard at times to care whether the three crooks manage to get away with their robbery or not.'|
In its set-up, director Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday can be seen as a relatively straightforward film noir, complete with hardboiled criminals, everyday folk with skeletons in their closets, and at least one potential femme fatale. And yet there are elements here that Fleischer includes to make Violent Saturday go against its noir foundations. Rather than a dark and moody setting, the director chooses the direct opposite by having the whole story played out against a bright Arizona landscape. It’s choices like this which make Fleischer’s movie, at least in part, noteworthy within films of its ilk.
Fleischer also makes the interesting choice not to focus his film on one particular character. We are soon introduced to Harper (Stephen McNally), a bank robber posing as a travelling salesman, but it quickly becomes clear that his associates Chapman (J. Carrol Naish) and Dill (Lee Marvin) are just as important to the story. Fleischer then takes us on a guided tour of the various inhabitants of Bradenville, the film’s setting, whilst also sowing seeds of the secrets several of the locals want to keep hidden. The director essentially makes Bradenville itself the main character of his film, a choice which feels original but does make matters somewhat lacking in focus at times.
Structurally, Violent Saturday is divided into three distinct acts, with the third act tying together the multiple threads established in the first two and providing the film’s most exciting and engrossing section. The way in which Fleischer, working off Sydney Boehm’s tightly organised screenplay, brings several previously disconnected stories together in his film’s climactic final act is pleasing, even if it feels a little manufactured at one or two points. There are also several moments which live up to the title’s adjective - perhaps tame by 21st Century standards, but which raised eyebrows on the film’s initial release almost sixty years ago.
The problems with Fleischer’s film come from its opening hour. With so many residents of Bradenville introduced to us, it’s almost inevitable that at least a few feel noticeably lacking in development. In particular, Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) - who ends up as the closest thing to the film’s hero - feels particularly one-dimensional in his presentation, making his transformation in act three that much harder to swallow and overly reliant on Mature’s winning performance. Fleischer never quite manages to avoid making the events in Bradenville feel too parochial to really resonate; you’ll likely find it hard at times to care whether the three crooks manage to get away with their robbery or not.
At only ninety minutes, however, this never outstays its welcome. Lee Marvin’s turn early on in his career as neurotic, inhaler-snorting gangster Dill - the film’s strongest character - is also excellent throughout, a standout amongst several other strong performances. Whilst it might not leave a lasting impression, there’s enough contained within Violent Saturday to make it a worthwhile watch.