Take a dash of pulp fiction, add a large dollop of melodrama with a hint of film noir and that just about sums up “Violent Saturday”. I had often read about Richard Fleischer’s 1955 movie but only got around to watching it recently.

This is a movie that keeps things simple – three robbers posing as travelling salesmen (Stephen McNally, J Carrol Naish and Lee Marvin) roll into a one-horse copper mining town with plans to hit the poorly guarded bank on a Saturday. And as they case out the bank and the town, we get a glimpse into the lives of the local residents.

There’s the solid mine foreman Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) with a perfect wife and home, the only kink being that his 10-year-old son (Billy Chapin) resents the fact that his dad isn’t a war hero like the father of his friend. While the other men went off to fight World War II, Martin was made to stay back home to keep the mine working.

Martin’s boss Boyd Fairchild (Richard Egan) has turned to the bottle because his wife Emily (Margaret Hayes) is running around with other women. Fairchild has his eyes on nurse Linda Sherman (Virginia Leith), who is also the object of the fantasies of bank manager Harry Reeves (Tommy Noonan), a peeping Tom who stalks her and watches her apartment at night. 

Then there’s Sylvia Sydney as a librarian who’s being squeezed by the bank to repay a loan and Ernest Borgnine as the head of an Amish family (yes, I know, a bit of a stretch) on whose farm the robbers intend to switch getaway vehicles after the heist.

Director Richard Fleischer, the son of famous animator Max Fleischer, keeps the pot boiling as he juxtaposes the robbers making plans for their robbery with the colourful, and at times sordid, lives of the townspeople. Nurse Linda Sherman is on the verge of stealing Boyd Fairchild away from Emily when the mine owner decides to give his wife another chance, while bank manager Harry Reeves gets tangled in all sorts of problems due to his obsession with the nurse.

But it’s the robbers who stand out – especially a young Lee Marvin as a Benzedrine-addicted cold-blooded killer who thinks nothing of stomping the hand of a child simply because the kid bumps into him and makes him drop his inhaler, and J Carrol Naish as a silent and mean criminal who says little but makes an impression.

When it first appeared in 1955, The New York Times dismissed “Violent Saturday” as a film with “no other purpose than to titillate and thrill on the level of melodrama and guarded pornography (!)”. But stick with this one because it has its moments.

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