Contrary to popular clichés, a film noir doesn't have to be in set on the mean, rain-slicked backstreets of a cramped, malevolent city, nor does it even have to be in black-and-white ("noir" is really a world-view than a palette). And although purists may balk, a movie need not have been produced during the tumultuous years of WWII and its immediate aftermath to be considered a true "noir." Case in point: Richard Fleischer's Violent Saturday, a brightly colored, black-hearted look at crime and the American character from 1955 that's just now being re-released in a sparkling new 35mm print. This rarely seen pulp masterpiece was not only shot in blazing Technicolor and ultra-wide CinemaScope, it's set in a seemingly idyllic desert mining town, and most of it unfolds in bright, broad daylight -- the better to see the corruption festering just below the happy surface. Noir? You bet.
Although he's probably best remembered -- when he's remembered at all -- as the director of such sunny family favorites like , the Yale-educated Fleischer made as string of B-noirs that rank among the best of the genre. The best know is probably The Narrow Margin, but the MIA Armored Car Robbery and the excellent Rogue Cop, about rampaging policeman (Robert Taylor) who makes Bad Lieutenant look like Officer Friendly. Violent Saturday, however, just might be Fleischer best noir; it's certainly his most expansive. Adapted from William L. Heath's dime-store classic by Sydney Boehm (The Big Heat, Shock Treatment), the film ostensibly about a bank heist the small, southwestern American town of Bradenville, Arizona, where copper is king. Three "salesmen" -- ringleader Stephen McNally, bespectacled cold fish J. Carrol Naish and an unforgettable Lee Marvin, playing a tweaking, benzadrine-sniffing hood with a bad nose-spray habit and a grudge against the world -- check into the Bradenville Hotel, then case the bank, which they plan to rob just before noon on the following day -- Saturday, natch.
But the real action is in the town itself. The town's copper scion (Richard Egan) is a sloppy, unhappily married drunk, his wife (Margaret Hayes) is the country club slut who's sleeping with the town wolf (He: "Why do you play golf?" She: "I look good in sweaters."), the prim librarian (played by the wonderful Sylvia Sydney) is a thief and a blackmailer, and the town's milquetoast bank manager (Tommy Noonan) is a sweaty, drooling peeping tom. Even the ostensible hero (Victor Mature), the mine superintendent, isn't so heroic. He overcompensates for a crippled sense of his own masculinity: He served on the home front instead of the beaches of Iwo Jima, and his disillusioned young son knows it. Did I mention Ernest Borgnine as a pitchfork wielding Amish farmer? Twin Peaks has nothing on this town. Tough stuff, indeed, and in true noir fashion, that happy ending is anything but. If you're lucky enough to be in New York City over the next week, do yourself a favor and head down to Film Forum, where this forgotten pulp masterpiece will be playing through March 6. Otherwise, keep an eye peeled and say prayer in an upcoming DVD release.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Contrary to popular clichés, a film noir doesn't have to be in set on the mean, rain-slicked backstreets of a cramped, malevolent city, nor does it even have to be in black-and-white ("noir" is really a world-view than a palette). And although purists may… (more)