That Turner Classic Movie guest programmer series, I was talking about recently, last night had Brian Dennehy, whose first two choices were ODD MAN OUT and SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, two movies I was sure I’d seen, the first when I was a kid and the second when it came out. But I sat through both of them and felt like I’d never seen them before.
Dennehy chose them for the writing and the acting. When I was a kid, if I did see ODD MAN OUT I would have been watching it for the Irish stuff I recognized from my own life and clan, or from stories I’d heard about my Irish grandparents and other relatives who came over or were still there.
But the fact that James Mason starred in it, would have thrown me, since he always came off as the ultimate stiff Brit to me. But Dennehy pointed out that he got his start in Dublin, acting on stage there, so playing the “chief” of an IRA group wouldn’t have been a stretch. But to see him looking so young and speaking with an Irish accent, was a little jarring, and impressive.
The movie’s stylized in that 1940s version of the expressionism of earlier decades ala THE INFORMER etc. Slow paced and deeply serious, but still moving, seriously so. It’s like staged realism.
And SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING is another version of that style, the late 1950s, early ‘60s “kitchen sink” stage realism of “The Angry Young Men” as the British novelists and playwrights of that period were known, like Allan Sillitoe who wrote the novel and the screenplay adaptation. And who would have been the reason I’d see the movie when it came out in ’61, while I was busy reading Sillitoe and the rest of “The Angry Young Men”, and digging them.
They were all about overturning the centuries old English traditions of class consciousness and keeping one’s place and observing the rituals of class deference and all that. And they did. As Dennehy rightly pointed out, it was partly responsible for all that followed, including Princess Margaret marrying a commoner and the rise of The Beatles and Rolling Stones and “swinging London” and all that.
In the U. S., “The Angry Young Men” were linked with “the Beats” and all cast as rebels, with a cause, though the Beats weren’t as pointedly clear about it, as in overthrowing a class system, more like ignoring it.
At any rate, Albert Finney was the star and carried almost every scene in the film brilliantly. When you first spy him in the first scene he’s just a kid! But his presence and persona are so powerful, that within minutes he’s “Albert Finney”—the movie actor you’ve (I guess I mean I’ve) been watching since this movie came out. (The movie that made him a star, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM JONES, came out three years later and had an even more profound impact on what became “the sixties.”)
I’ve never really been crazy about either Mason or Finney. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired their acting. Their talent is obvious and unique, in both cases. But there’s always been something in their personas that’s seemed closed off, cold, distant, cut off from the full range of human experience, at least as I know it and have known it. But each of them, in these flicks, where they were just starting out, seemed somehow more vulnerable, more open to the possibilities, not yet the fully developed characters they seemed to solidify into as movie stars.
But in the characters they play in these early films, there is the basis for what they became, and maybe that was partly a result of these roles, or maybe they were already that way and that’s why they were cast in them. Either way, it’s an intriguing bit of film history to have seen them in tandem and dug the artistry not only of their impressive talents but of the films as a whole. Two undeniably great flicks, uniquely paired, and not surprisingly when I think about it, by Dennehy, who also is often an actor in that vein, though capable of showing more vulnerability, but still, with certain limitations in the characters he plays as well.
Anyway, if you’ve never seen either, they’re an interesting bit of not just film history, but cultural and political history as well. Highly recommended.