Monday Editor’s Pick: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

by on September 19, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Mon Sept 27 at 8:00* at IFC Center [Progarm & Tix]

*Introduced by Andrew Haigh


Director Andrew Haigh is in town to promote the official IFC release of house-favorite film Weekend. Invited to present a screening in IFC Center’s “Queer/Art/Film” series, Haigh selected Karel Reisz’s kitchen-sink classic Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, an unlikely influence on Weekend that’s very subtly referenced throughout.


Reisz’s canonical relic of the British “New Wave” has soured over time for critics like Pauline Kael and David Thomson — but its bold, frank storytelling and electrifying performance by Albert Finney continue to stir audiences and filmmakers. Writes Haigh, “Its exploration of the ‘outsider’ battling the mainstream is a theme essential to both the queer experience and to the kind of stories I want to tell.”



Geoffrey McNab for Sight & Sound (May 2009):

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” defiant factory worker Arthur (Albert Finney) famously intones early on in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. It’s one of the strengths of the film that we’re left unsure just what independence his rebelliousness has won him. Has he found happiness or is he trapped in a marriage with a woman (Shirley Anne Field) who will soon tame him? This remains open to debate. He’s still hurling stones but you sense that he’s being drawn into the conformity of his TV-watching parents (“Both dead from the neck up”). Wild and vital, Finney’s performance matches Marlon Brando in his Streetcar Named Desire prime – it’s such bravura acting that it’s easy to overlook both the character’s extreme egotism and the way he’s boxing himself into a corner. Finney may galvanise the movie but – whether it’s the brilliantly choreographed scene in which Arthur is beaten up at a fairground, Rachel Roberts’ soulful performance as his married lover or the John Dankworth music that seems to set the tempo by which Arthur leads his life – there is plenty more to admire.



Phillip Horne for The Telegraph:

For those who know Albert Finney mainly from his middle age – say, as the portly, shambling lawyer in Erin Brockovich (2000) – it will be a shock, a blast of bracing Nottingham air to encounter the slim, muscular, dynamic 24-year-old who plays Arthur Sillitoe’s angry young hedonist Arthur Seaton in Karel Reisz’s superb Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Seaton is an emblematic figure of the era that cast off its fetters and opened up from 1950s austerity into the Swinging Sixties, one of those unsettled, aspiring working-class heroes of the British New Wave. As physically fired-up as any of these, he’s a vortex of sensual energy and mischievous rebellion: “What I’m out for is a good time,” he announces. “All the rest is propaganda.”


The film shows his struggle to have that good time – to the strains of John Dankworth’s restless jazz score – despite all the forces of repression and envy that a grim, smoky, cobbled, black-and-white Britain of “fat cows” and “nosey-parkers” can array against him “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” is one of his catchphrases. Significantly, another quote from the film (“Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not”) has provided the title for the debut album from the latest working-class heroes, Arctic Monkeys. The painful, searing raw sensuality of Reisz’s beautifully observed and judged (and edited) film is still amazingly potent: Finney and Roberts are a revelation. Arthur may be ruthless, abrasive – even, as he’s called, “a pig”; but his mixture of aggression and decency makes him one of the great characters of British cinema.



Director Les Blair, also for Sight & Sound (Sept 1997):

Of all the British NewWave films of the late 5Os and early 60s, I think Saturday Night and Sunday Morning best stands the test of time. People nowadays tend to think it’s patronising, but for me it is the toughest and most influential of those films. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was shown in my part of England, and it was refreshing to see people I recognised on the screen. I felt connected with the characters and milieu of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. It wasn’t set in Salford, but it was very similar. It seemed to breathe the world I knew about.


I like the quiet way in which Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is shot. The camera always seems to be subservient to the content. It doesn’t have the flashiness of Billy Liar and (to a certain extent) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It’s not trying to copy the French New Wave. It seems to have its own stylistic honesty, which helps it survive all the better. It was made after Room at the Top. which felt like a transitional film between the old, rather theatrical British films and the new more filmic and more realistic work.


Saturday Night and Sunday Morning feels very simple, looks very straightforward. But in fact there’s an awful lot going on. There’s a scene where Finney – who has been having an affair with a married woman (Rachel Roberts) – is chased through a fairground by her husband’s brother and friend. The sequence ends with Finney being beaten up. The whole scene is played on a bombsite in longshot. It has none of the pyrotechnics of stunt fights, it is cold, detached and really quite terrifying. The film is full of that kind of detail. I don’t think the film romanticises the Finney character at all; it shows his anger and frustration. When I went to film school and began to see the films coming out of Czechoslovakia – Milos Forman’s and Jiri Menzel’s work – it felt to me that there was a direct connection with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. These films also had a human relationship with their characters – they were observing rather than condemning or praising. I liked that mix of objectivity and commitment running together.



Phil Wickham for the BFI:

Over forty years on, the film still packs an impressive punch. At the time, its impact with critics and audiences lay in its depiction of a working class world that was previously unseen on British screens. What’s more, this world was presented in matter of fact terms, rather than being seen as a ‘problem’ to be solved in the late ’50s manner. People drink, fight, commit adultery, get pregnant, get married – that’s the way it is. Some punches were pulled in the production process, but it was still remarkably frank for the time in its treatment of adultery, abortion and violence.


Albert Finney’s performance is a defining one in British film culture. His swagger dominates the film and, for all Arthur’s self-regard, he takes us with him every step of the way. In fact the filmmakers intended a more ambiguous view of the character. Karel Reisz sees him as a “sad person, terribly limited in his sensibilities, narrow in his ambitions and a bloody fool into the bargain.” It is a tribute to Finney that we do not experience the film like that. Arthur may be a liar, a cheat and many other things, but he is most definitively alive, and his unbending defiance in the face of expectations feels liberating.



An amusing TIME profile (1961) of Finney:

He generally goes around in a tieless flannel shirt, stovepipe trousers that somehow bag at the knees, a moldy, fur-lined leather coat (“I shot it myself”), and a workingman’s cloth cap. But he wears a suit and tie to restaurants, so that he will not “have to perform as a rebel, put my feet on the table or something that would interfere with my eating.” He simply fears “claustrophobia of the soul” (which may have helped cause him to separate from his wife, Actress Jane Wenham), thinks that too many British actors are preoccupied with respectability. “When I’m old, I want to be sorry for what I’ve done—not for what I’ve not done.”


He has turned down five long-term movie contracts, did Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on a one-film basis for Playwright John Osborne’s producing company. “I’m only 24,” says Albie Finney, “and I want to feel free to gallop around. I don’t particularly want to be an international star by the time I’m 30. And meanwhile, I don’t want to be the second Olivier. I want to be the first Finney.”


Elliott Stein for the Village Voice:

Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) is notable for its brash, uninhibited picture of working-class Midland life and Albert Finney’s truculent performance as the take-what-you-can-get hero, a cheeky young machinist who eases his frustrations through sex and booze. If a number of Britain’s realistic pictures of the period now appear dated, Reisz’s remarkably assured debut feature stands up better than most.


Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian:

The BFI’s reissue of British new wave classics from the 1960s discloses not only their anti-establishment energy but also their innocence, freshness, and the daylit beauty of their cinematography. With such catchphrases as “I’ll believe yer – thousands wouldn’t!” and the ever popular “Ere!”, they are an extraordinary window on the past. My heart stopped to see on a washing-up box: “Persil – New As 1962!”


Albert Finney is the cocky, belligerent antihero of Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, scripted by Alan Sillitoe from his novel: a truculent toolmaker with an off-duty taste for fine suitings. He’s getting his oats with a married woman, the superb Rachel Roberts, and exchanging badinage with Aunt Ada: the incomparable, but here very restrained Hylda Baker. The counter-Hollywood bloody-mindedness packs a knockout punch.



Jeff Stafford with some background for TCM:

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) arrived at the midpoint of the “Angry Young Man” trend in British cinema, which originally began as a literary movement with the publication of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in 1956. The film was based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Alan Sillitoe who grew up in the working class suburb of Nottingham and whose main character, Arthur Seaton, worked in the Raleigh factory just like his father did. Like most of the films in the “Angry Young Man” canon, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was a reaction to the grim realities of post-war Britain where most working class families grew up in row house developments in industrial city suburbs and mill towns, the only places that offered employment opportunities for many. The film, which marked the feature film debut of Karel Reisz, was also a natural outgrowth of the “Free Cinema” movement which flourished between 1956-59 and was an attempt to escape the confines of commercial cinema and to engage the viewer in realistic, documentary-like depictions of life that addressed social issues filtered through artistic personal expression.


After Tony Richardson made his successful feature debut with the film version of Look Back in Anger, he was offered Saturday Night and Sunday Morning but chose instead to serve as the producer and offered the film to Reisz. In preparation for the movie, Reisz took a small film crew to the highly industrial area of Nottingham to get a feel for the people and the region and ended up shooting a documentary about a welfare center for miners. It proved to be an excellent trial run for his film debut and is the main reason Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has such an authentic feel for its locale and residents. The film shoot lasted six weeks and benefited from the evocative black and white cinematography of Freddie Francis (Oscar®-winner for Best Cinematography on Sons and Lovers, 1960).


In an interview, Francis recalled, “On Saturday Night and Sunday Morning I know I was being forced onto Karel. I met Karel and we got on pretty well together. And I said, “Karel, now I know what you’re worried about. You think I’m going to make this look like an M-G-M musical. But you don’t have to worry at all – I’ll do it just as you wish. And once we started shooting and Karel saw that I was not interfering, that I was only prepared to help and to make life easier for him, we became great friends. Karel involved me the same way as Jack Clayton does; they involve me on the movie.”



The blog Broken Projector:

Though Room at the Top (1958) is credited as the official beginning of the British New Wave, it was not until the release of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 that the true effect of the ‘Wave’ was felt. The film took over audiences in Britain like an avalanche over a small village in some god forsaken valley. It had all the ingredients for a controversial film: an anti-social protagonist, morally questionable behaviour and portrayal of taboo topics like unwanted pregnancy and extra-marital affairs. Albert Finney brings out the performance of his lifetime in his portrayal of the hot tempered tough guy Arthur Seaton, a role which was considered Britain’s reply to Marlon Brando.


Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was the first film to have all its exterior shots to be filmed on location. This was a major move which would influence the following films in the New Wave to be gradually filmed entirely on location. The film was also well known for its clash with the censor board. A significant amount of dialogue in the film had to be replaced owing to the extensive use of swear words in the script. Another major problem was the depiction of Albert Finney’s character Arthur waking up on Sunday morning in bed with his colleague’s wife, a scene directly implying extra-marital affair which was not seen before in British cinema. Forty-seven years after the release of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the energy of Arthur Seaton still prevails. Somebody like Arthur can live in the contemporary setting of the world and still be himself, a trait that can only be shared by characters like Superman and James Bond.


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