Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1960)
SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING is a landmark in British cinema: a film that almost singlehandedly kick-started the subgenre of films that was affectionately dubbed ‘kitchen sink’, launched the career of Albert Finney (UNDER THE VOLCANO) and became the quintessential film concerning Britain’s disaffected youth. Though some would argue that LOOK BACK IN ANGER (directed by this film’s producer, Tony Richardson) was similar in its depiction of a disillusioned young man, and pre-dates Karel Reisz’s film by two years, it is SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING that set the formula for many other films to follow. Adapted from Alan Sillitoe’s novel by the author himself and directed by Reisz—marking his feature film directorial debut—the film’s central concerns are as relevant and poignant now as they were upon its release almost 50 years ago. It’s also worth pointing out how similar, both in structure and the themes it explores, Reisz’s film is to Lewis Gilbert’s ALFIE, which was adapted from Bill Naughton’s play six years after SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING. In fact, Gilbert’s film comes dangerously close to plagiarising Sillitoe’s novel, though its studio “sheen” and loveable rogue are no match for Reisz’s grittier drama.
Albert Finney plays Arthur, a twentysomething factory worker who has no grasp of responsibility. Living at home with his parents, Arthur lives his life on a day-by-day basis: his existence revolves entirely around spending his earnings in the pub and knocking off the wife of one of his co-workers, with no concern for the consequences of his actions. Fate has a habit if intervening at the most inopportune times though, and just as Arthur strikes up what could be a meaningful courtship with the wholesome Doreen (Shirley Ann Field – who would later star opposite Michael Caine in ALFIE, making her yet another element common to both films), Brenda reveals that she is pregnant with his child.
SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING is an extremely astute slice of life, boasting well-written dialogue that is brilliantly realised by a strong cast. Kudos to Sillitoe and Reisz for creating a scenario that remains believable now, half a century on: one can imagine just how controversial the film was at time of its release. What’s more, and contrary to other films made at the time, the filmmakers never shied away from thorny issues such as adultery and abortion, which resulted in the film being slapped with an ‘X’ rating when it was submitted to the BBFC in July 1960. However, the film was given a ‘PG’ rating when it was classified for video in 1990, which goes to show how times have changed. Such issues are handled both delicately and in a believable manner, a far cry from the sensationalist melodrama that’s associated with films made in during the latter half of the 50s and early 60s. At a brisk 85 minutes, the film is very slick and is never meanders in the way many other ‘kitchen sink’ films do. This can be attributed to both Sillitoe’s punchy script (though his original novel was as equally fast-moving) and Reisz’s taught direction. Freddie Francis’ stark monochrome photography is suitably sumptuous too, capturing the downtrodden streets of working class Nottingham with the same panache he would lend to the Hammer productions for which he made his name. It is also to the film’s benefit that it was filmed in Sillitoe’s native Nottingham and that they resisted the easy option of relocating the events to London where the majority of ‘kitchen sink’ films would be set.
The soon-to-be-released Blu-ray (also available on a remastered DVD the same day – 23rd March) is the best the film has looked on home video. The painstaking restoration and high definition transfer has paid dividends in that the picture quality is exemplary. There are still a few scratches here and there and a little grain can be seen in darker scenes but the level of detail in the image is unbelievable, lending an almost three dimensional look. The sound is presented in mono and is fine, clear of distortion and hiss, and the best one would expect for a film from this era. Though the additional features aren’t plentiful, they’re certainly worthy and a concentration of quality is far better than having oodles of filler. Kicking things off is an illuminating commentary that features Sillitoe, Francis and film historian Robert Murphy. Also included are a booklet and interviews with Shirley Ann Field and Albert Finney. Of most interest to Reisz completists though is the director’s documentary WE ARE THE LAMBETH BOYS. Made a year before SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, the film focuses on a London youth club. All the extras are also present on the upcoming DVD rerelease too.
A classic of British cinema has now become an essential Blu-ray. The BFI has done a fine job of readying it for its high definition debut and the film’s black and white photography has never looked so stunning. The disc features some insightful and thoughtful special features making this a no-brainer for any self-respecting Brit film collector.