Welcome to scenic Bradenville, Arizona, a cozy little copper mining town! On your left, you'll see Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan), our mine's owner, currently cheating on his adulterous wife Emily (Margaret Hayes) with nurse Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith) who, according to oglers, "moves like a Swiss watch". Linda's got another admirer: bank manager Harry "don't call me Roy" Reeves (Tommy Noonan), who enjoys spying on her from the darkened street below. Further down, you'll see mine foreman Shelley Martin (Victor Mature), who's possibly the most level-headed man in town: he's got a wife and kids, although oldest son Steve (Billy Chapin) resorts to fighting and property destruction because his dad's not a war hero. Oh, and on the right is Elsie Braden (Sylvia Sydney), local librarian turned purse bandit due to mounting mortgage payments. Also, don't forget that Harper, Chapman, and Dill (Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish, and Lee Marvin) will be rolling into town later to rob our quaint little bank. Enjoy your stay, folks!
Richard Fleischer's Violent Saturday (1955) takes us on this tour of fictional Bradenville in relatively short order, introducing these characters (and many more) in succession during its 91-minute lifespan. In the first of its most head-scratching elements, Violent Saturday uses an odd structure to tell its story: the first hour is devoted almost entirely to the soapy melodrama described above, while the final 30 minutes spiral into chaos as our friendly neighborhood bank robbers shoot, steal and kidnap their way to infamy in Bradenville and the surrounding areas. Before that, they case the town carefully, even picking out a spot to switch getaway cars at a nearby Amish farm run by Stadt (Ernest Borgnine) and his generous, welcoming family. Along the way, Violent Saturday reminds us that everyone is human and thus prone to violence under the right (wrong?) circumstances, from non-war-hero Shelley to the peaceful Amish patriarch, who are unwittingly thrust into defending themselves from those no-good robbers during the film's climactic stand-off.
For a film shot in color, Violent Saturday is awfully black and white. We never really get more than surface coverage of key characters, almost all of them are unlikable in one way or another and, worst of all, very few of these offenders get what's coming to 'em. It's overstuffed with characters that don't really need to intersect as much as they do, even though the small-town convenience of their intersecting lives is more believable than, say, Crash. The violence is bloodless but forceful, threats are implied but rarely carried out and, unless you're completely unfamiliar with the Amish lifestyle (or a paranoid parent), Stadt's sacrifice will probably make your eyes roll. But I'll give Violent Saturday a couple of free passes: the performances are capable enough (especially Victor Mature and Lee Marvin, among others), Fleischer's direction is visually efficient, and the location shooting (in Bisbee, Arizona of 3:10 to Yuma fame) is first-rate. It all adds up to a sporadically entertaining but highly manipulative film that's still worth watching at least once.
Interestingly enough, Violent Saturday was only Twilight Time's second DVD release before later switching to a Blu-ray only agenda. It's also worth noting that their DVD was non-anamorphic and sourced from the best material available at the time. Last year, Violent Saturday was released in Region B by Carlotta Films (France) and Eureka Classics (UK), both featuring 2.55:1, 1080p transfers culled from Carlotta's meticulously restored master. Twilight Time returns with the domestic Blu-ray debut, utilizing the same new master and offering a new audio mix and two exclusive extras. It sounds like an innocent enough double-dip...but unfortunately, this is hardly a definitive release considering the alternatives.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is most likely identical to recent international releases of Violent Saturday such as Eureka Classics' Region B Dual Format Edition. This marks the film's domestic Blu-ray debut and easily beats Twilight Time's 2011 DVD in all departments; image detail and the film's rich color palette are beautifully rendered. A layer of natural film grain is present and image depth is also very pleasing, especially during the countless scenes shot outside in the bright Arizona sun. Black levels and shadow detail are also quite strong overall, even during lower-lit indoor sequences. Glaring digital imperfections (including excessive DNR) are thankfully absent on this dual-layered disc, rounding out the video presentation nicely. All things considered, Twilight Time was blessed with a wonderfully restored transfer and, as a result, Violent Saturday's visuals should thoroughly please long-time fans and newcomers alike.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
On the other hand, the included DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix sounds a little hollow and gimmicky. The aforementioned international Blu-ray releases include separate audio options replicating the film's four-track roots and a 2.0 Stereo downmix...and at the very least, I'd have appreciated the inclusion of one or both of those tracks as well. The dialogue sounds too low in the mix and tends to wander through the front channels (often sounding "wider" than it really needs to), so its clarity is affected on both counts. On the other hand...gunshots, other sudden outbursts, and Hugo Friedhofer's original score all pack quite a punch, although this means you'll probably be reaching for the volume button on many occasions. Unfortunately, Twilight Time continues to sporadically omit English subtitle support and Violent Saturday is a victim, as the addition of subtitles would've probably made some of the conversations easier to follow. While I can't say I'm a fan of this 5.1 mix overall, it does have a few strengths and some fans may enjoy it more.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
As expected, the menu interface is plain but perfectly functional and loads very quickly. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase, adorned with recycled DVD artwork and a nice little Booklet
that includes production stills, vintage promotional images and liner notes by Twilight Time regular Julie Kirgo. Simple, effective and appropriate.
Aside from the booklet, we get a full Isolated Score Track
and an Audio Commentary
with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman; both are exclusive to this release. The commentary is pleasing enough at times, as these participants serve up a few production stories and other facts, but I've never really been a fan of "second-hand" sessions. Some of their comments are more than a little pretentious and, on other occasions, they lapse into narrating the on-screen action. Although some die-hard fans may enjoy these extras, I was left hoping for something more substantial...and at the risk of repetition, it's a real shame that both featurettes from the Region B Blu-rays couldn't be ported over.
Oddly structured, highly manipulative, sporadically entertaining, and more than a little frustrating, Richard Fleischer's Violent Saturday is a visceral slice of 1955 drama that spirals into chaos during its third act. But is it worth all the convoluted setup and overstuffed small-town drama? Sort of. Even so, it's hard not to get caught up in it all, even if the film's subversive message makes you feel a little dirty afterwards: Violent Satuday is, despite its flaws, a memorable film experience that hasn't aged too badly. Unfortunately, Twilight Time's Blu-ray doesn't offer much support other than a fantastic 1080p transfer: the audio is underwhelming and so are the extras. If you're equipped for Region B playback and haven't picked up Eureka Classics' Dual Format Edition yet, that might be a better option. Otherwise, Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.