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    Too Violent?

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    When Violent Saturday (1955) opened in New York this day 61 years ago, The New York Times’ venerable critic Bosley Crowther just didn’t get with the program. Pronouncing it an “unedifying spectacle,” he warned: “For the dismal fact is that Violent Saturday, which is filmed in color and CinemaScope, appears to have no other purpose than to titillate and thrill on the level of melodrama and guarded pornography.” He mustered some guarded but grumbling praise for the “personal honor” element of the desert backwater thriller Bad Day at Black Rock three months earlier, but this new offering was far too vicious for Crowther, who seemed reluctant to recognize that the elements of film noir – shaded characters with guilty secrets, the heartless chill of diminished family relationships, subtle observations of a corroded society – could flourish in the sun-baked, wide-screen Arizona landscape as opposed to the shadowy alleys of a bleak urban metropolis. He didn’t even notice the Western trappings that could justify the CinemaScope expanse. In his BFI Online 10 Great Films Shot in Cinemascope essay, David Parkinson has a more historically updated and astute take on this gripping, tightly-drawn – and ultimately quite compact at a brisk 91 minutes – thriller: “Everyone has something to hide in Richard Fleischer’s simmering study of smalltown America, which was adapted by Sydney Boehm from a William L. Heath story that originally appeared in Cosmopolitan. Similar in tone to John Sturges’ Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), this widescreen masterclass puts a noirishly melodramatic spin on the classic Western scenario of the outlaws riding into a remote outpost to rob the bank. But ‘travelling salesmen’ Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish and Lee Marvin are not the only shady characters in Bradenville, Arizona. Fleischer exposes the soap operatic lusts, deceptions, anxieties and betrayals in a series of measured long takes that not only establishes the pace of life, but also the layout of the town and the copper mine and Amish farm beyond its limits. He also uses Charles G. Clarke’s meticulous DeLuxe imagery to emphasize the isolation the characters endure in an outwardly close-knit community. But the shot length shortens during the heist, getaway and climactic shootout, as hostaged mine supervisor Victor Mature proves to his doubting 10-year-old son that not every hero has a chestful of war medals.” The movies were stretching their reach and the tough and tumultuous tropes of noir could take their place on the widescreen canvas just as much as any other genre. Unlike Crowther, you can get with the program – and have a sizzling, suspenseful time of it – with Violent Saturday on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.