Saturday 9 August 2008

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

One of the earliest of the kitchen sink dramas, this one has vitriol dripping off the screen from moment one. It's a 1960 adaptation by Alan Sillitoe of his 1958 novel, that helped shake up the climate of British entertainment. Set in a distinctly working class environment and featuring prominent themes like adultery, abortion and punitive violence in a matter of fact tone. While each of these are handled less vividly than would be done today there's still plenty of impact and this became the beginning of a serious change of focus for British cinema. It's about as far from Noel Coward's drawing room farces and Carry On comedies as you could imagine.

Our focus is Arthur Seaton, a young machinist making parts for Raleigh bikes in a Nottingham factory. As powerfully brought to life by a young Albert Finney, he's arrogant, confident and loud. He works hard, though he loathes his job, and he's paid well, but he spends it as soon as he earns it because he lives hard too. We first meet him at the end of working hours on a Friday as he gets ready to hit the pub and we see what life to Arthur means. He outdrinks a depressed sailor (played by Colin Blakely in his film debut) only to spill a pint all over a nearby couple and fall down a staircase drunk as a skunk.

He also spends the night in bed with Brenda, the wife of a co-worker, with whom he's been having a long running affair. Soon he picks up a new flame too, a young lady much closer to his age by the name of Doreen and he has to start finding ways to juggle his life so that each of them carries on oblivious of the other. Inevitably though, things fall apart. Doreen ends up pregnant, but doesn't want to keep the baby, so ends up on a quest for whatever will undo the mess they've got into, whether it be an actual doctor or just some old wives' remedy. Just as inevitably Brenda's husband finds out and when he does, he has the benefit of a couple of squaddies to make the difference.

Arthur is an interesting character, vivid and powerful both through how he's written and how he's played. Albert Finney does a great job and I can see quite a few people I know in his performance. I'm sure Alan Sillitoe put a lot of people he knew into the character too. Arthur is loud because it makes him feel important and noticed, but it also adds to his rebellious attitude. He knows he doesn't know everything but he doesn't want anyone to teach him. He defies authority, not only when it gains him anything, but as a matter of course: this is most apparent in the windowbreaking scene that really has nothing to do with Arthur but firmly underlines who he is. Most of the film reflects a wish for actions without consequences.

Arthur also has the classic adolescent struggle: he wants to be grownup but he doesn't want to be his parents. One line defines that: 'There's a lot more in life than my mum and dad have got.' Arthur has no clue what that is but he wants it. To me while the film and the story as a whole is powerful and defining, the real power and definition is in these lines. They're everywhere and often appear to be throwaway lines but they're worth paying attention for.

'When's the next strike then, Tom?' Arthur asks a man in a pub who doesn't appear anywhere in the film. Tom hasn't worked that out yet. 'Weren't a bad picture,' says Doreen after Arthur takes her to a Hollywood film. 'Knew it would end like that though.' There are quite a few comments about the good old days. One telling line was even borrowed by the Arctic Monkeys for an album title: 'Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not.' This really plays like an English take on one of Brando's (and Hollywood's) most famous lines of all time: 'What are you rebelling against?' 'Whaddya got?'

There are plenty names here to pay attention to beyond Finney and Sillitoe, and even beyond Shirley Anne Field and Rachel Roberts who play Arthur's two girlfriends. Arthur's Aunt Ada is Hylda Baker from Nearest and Dearest. His slightly less wild best mate is Norman Rossington, the Beatles' road manager in A Hard Day's Night. The producer of the film is Tony Richardson, one of the most critical names at this point in British cinema. He had already directed Look Back in Anger and would soon direct A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The cinematography is by Hammer horror regular Freddie Francis, who has a lot more major films to his credit than you'd think. The music is by Johnny Dankworth and there's a certain Dudley Moore playing piano on the soundtrack.

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