Title: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Karel Reisz
Writer: Alan Sillitoe, based on his own eponymous novel
Music: John Dankworth
Cinematography: Freddie Francis
Shirley Anne Field
On paper, Arthur Seaton (Finney) seems to be the trans-Atlantic cousin of James Dean’s Jim Stark in Nocholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, he is a disgruntled Nottingham youth slogs away in the lathe unit on week-days, and finds solace in petticoat company in after-work hours (especially the slot which the movie’s title indicates), but essentially his life is stuck in a rut, aimless, monotonous and painfully prosaic, but he has to abide by.
British New Wave pioneer Karel Reisz’s debut feature, a working-class kitchen-sink melodrama headlined by an exuberant 23-year-old Albert Finney in his very first star-making leading role. Arthur partakes in a love affair with Brenda (Roberts), the wife of his co-worker Jack (Pringle), there is no compunction in their way since Brenda believes what they have is love, but, for Arthur, one might think it is the thrill of their trysts keeps him hooked, because apparently this is the only exciting happening amongst the quotidian drabness.
Then, he meets Doreen (Field), a comely beauty, seems a shade prim and proper, but she is available, maybe, even a marriage material for him. Arthur ambidextrously seesaws between adultery and romantic courtship, and rests assured that there would be no moral agony and ulterior motive behind, not like George Stevens’ A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), there is no social climbing or great fortune at stake. Plus, Arthur is a self-acclaimed, superb liar, he is cocksure that nothing can take him down, even when Brenda tells him she is pregnant with his child. Alan Sillitoe’s script supplies the narrative with very realistic spins and trenchant attitudes, not at all consciously righteous, but they are an encapsulation of its times, the pervading ennui which in retrospect devours an entire youth generation in UK’s industrialized era.
Arthur would be sucker-punched for sleeping with another man’s wife, but is he rueful afterwards? He can take a beat once in a while, a burly lad like that, but he will never change who he is, a good-looking reprobate has nothing to lose and nothing to hold dear, not even Doreen, she is too simple-minded to see through his macho charisma or maybe she is just a sucker for the sort. They will get married, as the film implies in the end, but felicity will plausibly keep eluding them. That’s what a first-viewing of this picture feels smarting, as impressively effervescent as Finney’s first-grade performance is, eventually the film comes off as a rather unfulfilled downer, our sympathy towards Arthur dissipates easily and emotional distance looms large.
On the subject of the supporting cast, Shirley Anne Field is well-chosen in magnifying Doreen’s glacial front against her pedestrian persona; Bryan Pringle contrives an understated but greatly ambivalent facade as the cuckolded husband. And Rachel Roberts is outstanding in a role diametrically dissimilar from another British New Wave hallmark she stars, Lindsay Anderson’s THIS SPORTING LIFE (1963), it is not that often audience would give a free pass to an adulteress, but here, she imprints both body and soul of an entrapped woman who neither minces words about what she wants nor overstays her welcome when she feels that a closure is inevitable.
While on the technical level, Karel Reisz’s debut rams home the intimacy between his characters and their environs, a well-presented correlation between its sharp Black-and-White cinematography and its visual spectacle, it doesn’t transpire to be a killing character study which can offer us something stimulating to chew on, other than its astute discernment of the acclimated torpor, which is so un-cinematically dispiriting.