Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - VIOLENT SATURDAY and BORN YESTERDAY on Blu-ray ""

Monday, July 28, 2014

Twilight Time - VIOLENT SATURDAY and BORN YESTERDAY on Blu-ray

BORN YESTERDAY (1950; George Cukor)
Gosh, it really is a remarkable thing when you find yourself in the hands of a highly skilled director like George Cukor. It's been said that some if the best directors make themselves invisible and Cukor does that in the most perfect way. He just knows instinctively where to put the camera, how long to hold on a shot, how long to let a scene play and so forth. Sounds like it should be easy right? Cukor makes it look like it is. He had directed something like 40 films prior to BORN YESTERDAY and he clearly learned a lot and honed his skills throughout that time. I'm reminded of one of my favorite exchanges in Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY wherein Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) is giving advice to Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) about comedy. Langford is trying to make clear to Pupkin that comedy takes years to perfect. He says that timing in particular is tricky in that the great comics make it look simple, as though it were just a matter of taking another breath in between jokes. But knowing when to take that breath and how long to pause is something that a comic can work at for decades in order to make it look natural and easy. Cukor is a craftsman if the highest order in that he does indeed make it all look so easy. Something as uncomplicated as a scene with Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford playing gin rummy. Cukor makes a choice to let the scene play in this wonderful way. It's very observational in nature and I love it. Your first instinct might be to almost get antsy, waiting for a big joke or something to punctuate the scene. But soon you realize it's not about that and you settle in to just watch the two characters interact. That's where the trust comes in. This feeling washes over you that's like, "Okay, he wants to show me something and I know it'll all make sense cause this guy knows what he's doing". So often these days I feel like some movies, especially comedies don't ever take their time like this film does . There's really something to be said for taking your time. There's also something to be said for great actors and BORN YESTERDAY has some true greats. WIlliam Holden and the previously mentioned Broderick Crawford and Judy Holliday are all fantastic here. In watching the film I was reminded again what a difference a great director makes. That's not to say that these actors weren't pretty solid in basically every movie they did, but you really get a sense of something above average when you watch actors do their thing in a George Cukor film. Cukor does particularly well with trios of actors. Case in point: THE PHILADEPHIA STORY. Three great actors (Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant) who really strut their stuff in an exceptional way resulting in one of the great comedies ever. Cukor seems to trust his actors a lot (as they must implicitly trust him) and he demonstrates that by letting them act and often not cutting scenes up as much as some other directors. Editing is a marvelous tool for storytelling, but a strong director knows when to knock it off and showcase his actors.

VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955; Richard Fleischer)
Richard Fleischer is one of those directors where, if you start digging through his filmography, there are many gems to be discovered. I can't recall which was the first Fleischer film I ever saw (that honor may go to SOYLENT GREEN or 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), but he immediately impressed me. Something about the kind of films he ended up making and the way he composed his frames grabbed my attention. I think that COMPULSION was another one I saw that caught my attention in a similar way. 
In VIOLENT SATURDAY, Fleischer made a very character-oriented heist film. Some might find it dull perhaps as the film really takes its time getting to the action, but I think it's pretty interesting as far as entries in this sub-genre go. Feels a bit like it's one part heist film and one part Sirk-ian melodrama which is an interesting combination for sure. The focus is a bit more on Victor Mature and his relationship with his son (same kid as in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER). It's a nice early role for Lee Marvin, wherein he is introduced early as a sadist who enjoys stepping on a little boy's hand. But Marvin's presence alone always elevates a film for me and this is no exception. Also in a smaller supporting role is Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer (pre-dating DEADLY BLESSING by about 30 years). As little as Marvin and Borgnine are in the film, they have a nice little square off at the end at least. Overall though, VIOLENT SATURDAY is an enjoyable, slow-burn, heist-thriller that slots well into Fleischer's canon of movies along with things like MR. MAJESTYK and THE NEW CENTURIONS. 

This Blu-ray transfer is is just gorgeous. Always nice to see a bright, CinemaScope movie in this kind of wonderful presentation.

This Twilight Time Blu-ray includes a commentary from two of my current favorite film people at the moment - Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. This always reliable duo dishes out plenty of great background and observations about the film. They touch on all of the major actors in the film as well as a brief history of Fleischer and his career. They further discuss the question of whether the movie is a film noir or a melodrama. Apparently, in some circles, it is left out of the noir canon. I have to say though, I'm with Julie on this one. It's hard for me not to see it as a film that should be talked about in the same breath as noirs. Sure, the melodramatic elements are rather prominent, but that should not be a disqualifier. Overall, it's a fun track for sure. As I've said of Nick and Julie before - listening  them is like hanging out with a couple jovial film professors who just unabashedly love cinema. Good stuff.

Both these Blu-rays and more Twilight Time titles can be purchased via Screen Archives here:

1 comment:

Terry McCarty said...

Recently watched the UK Region 2 Masters of Cinema issue of VIOLENT SATURDAY with a featurette hosted by William Friedkin; too bad it didn't get to be used on the Twilight Time release.