Violent Saturday


The reigning king of Southwestern noir until, say . . . Charley Varrick? The setting is crisply bright Bisbee, Arizona, crotched in rocky declivities, shot on location in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Three stickup men posing as salesmen (it doesn’t get more ’50s) pull in for “business”; casing things out over a day and a night, they get acquainted with the population of Sherwood Anderson small-towners awash in hotel-bar cocktails, dreamy voyeurism, and infidelity. The cast is a museum exhibit on the nigh-extinct art of scaled-in American bit acting, with the magnificent Sylvia Sidney as the daughter of a prominent family brought low, her flashing pridefulness intact, and Tommy Noonan as a peeping poltroon. (Lee Marvin and Victor Mature are the marquee names.) The opening coda, combining the gouged orange dirt of the copper mines and a Neolithic credit font, suggests something primal—one of the major themes is paternal protectiveness, underlined by a startling amount of violence toward children. Director Richard Fleischer, an ace with the long frame, composes scrolling studies in horizontality, grabbing one of the most ravishing train shots in cinema. Everything keeps swirling inexorably toward the zero-hour heist, thanks to scriptwriter Sydney Boehm, who gets in some of his gristliest lines (“She looked awful, didn’t she? Like she’d never been alive”).