Violent Saturday – DVD review on TCM

And yet another great cover

Richard Fleischer’s hybrid of violent crime drama and small town melodrama Violent Saturday (1955) is not technically a film noir. The widescreen production is in color and takes place almost entirely in daylight with nary a long shadow on the screen or a scheming double cross in the story. But it does belong to a distinctive subgenre of criminal violence–in this case a bank robbery–in rural settings, the urban poison reaching into the “innocence” of small town America, which as this sub-Peyton Place reveals, is not so innocent after all.

While the Saturday of this film indeed erupts into violence, the direction is more slow fuse than flash powder. Violent Saturday opens with a bang–a dynamite blast in the copper mine outside of a small Arizona town, building expectations for an explosive film–but settles into a mood of anxiety and anticipation in the long lead-up to the robbery, a mix of heist film deliberation and soap opera melodrama in what it essentially a provincial company town in the shadow of the mines.

Stephen McNally, the leader of the criminal crew, cases the place as his cohorts arrive: Lee Marvin, all tough-guy sass but for his addiction to a nasal inhaler, and J. Carrol Naish, a more cautious veteran who keeps the talkative Marvin in line. (Even Naish can’t stop the surly sadist from bullying a little kid who bumps into him on the sidewalk; Marvin’s most memorable moment is stepping on the kid’s hand.) Meanwhile the civilians inevitably to be caught in the crossfire of the robbery are introduced: a self-pitying drunk (Richard Egan) married to a shamelessly unfaithful wife (Margaret Hayes); a nebbish (and married) bank manager (Tommy Noonan) essentially stalking a beautiful single woman (Virginia Leith); a struggling librarian (Sylvia Sidney) behind on her bank payments; and a loving, hard-working husband and father (Victor Mature) trying to be the hero his son wants him to be. Ernest Borgnine co-stars as an Amish farmer whose out-of-town spread is chosen by the robbers as a rendezvous point and Brad Dexter, famed as one of The Magnificent Seven but much busier as one of Hollywood’s reliably oily womanizers, is the other man in a country club affair. The stalwart and stiff Mature feels miscast amidst this rogues gallery of killers, corrupt citizens and compromised characters. He never offers the human dimension the rest of the cast so effortlessly reveals in their failings, but his physicality serves the climactic conflict very well.

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It’s Twilight Time: The Kremlin Letter and Violent Saturday debut on DVD in limited editions

The debut release from Twilight Time

The DVD debut of John Huston’s sprawling, globetrotting 1970 espionage thriller The Kremlin Letter is also the debut release of Twilight Time, a new boutique DVD label (that’s actual pressed DVDs, not DVD-R or MOD) featuring limited run releases of select titles from the 20th Century Fox library. The creation of Warner Bros. veteran Brian Jamieson and filmmaker/music restoration specialist Nick Redman, the label is initially slated to release one disc a month (and later perhaps more), all from the 20th Century Fox catalogue, all from Fox digital masters, all in limited edition runs of 3,000 units.

“All our releases will be properly manufactured DVD’s and Blu-Rays – we were not interested in the DVD-R’s, as we feel they do an injustice to the titles in the long run,” explains Brian Jamieson. “While I’m sure collectors will find they fill a void in their collections, but we wanted to deliver a quality product, something that meets our own expectations and something we could be proud of. We love the old Fox film classics, especially from the 50’s.”

John Huston has been accused of cynicism in his films but The Kremlin Letter, a complicated plot of Cold War spy games is the most cold-blooded portrait of an mercenary world he’s ever presented. Charisma-challenged Patrick O’Neal is the ostensible leading man here, playing a career Navy officer coerced into joining a covert private team and go behind the Iron Curtain to retrieve a diplomatically dangerous letter, but in the scheme of things he’s just another player in a big, messy, tangled ensemble piece. Richard Boone is the standout as a hearty bear of an intelligence veteran who mentors O’Neal in the insidious games played in the name of counter-intelligence, and George Sanders (first seen in drag playing piano in a gay lounge), Nigel Green (a pimp in Mexico), Dean Jagger (hiding out a country vicar) and Max Von Sydow (as a deadly Soviet assassin who, haunted by his past, may be the most human figure in the bunch) fill out the deadly rogues gallery.

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