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Today’s new fashion is tomorrow’s formula and the difficulty which the much heralded Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (at the Warner) has to face is that these youths, the Midland or North-country heroes of John Osborne, John Braine, and, now, Alan Sillitoe, begin to wear a familiar look. The theme of the young and angry begins to be a formula – especially on the screen where fine differences of literary style get smoother away – and young anger is no longer enough in itself; already it needs some new angle, some special claim to novelty or at least to authenticity.
That is the difficulty for Karel Reisz’s film of Alan Sillitoe’s novel. It is, by and large, a difficulty triumphantly overcome. There are two reasons for this, and both of them have to do with “authenticity.” Mr Reisz’s scene is set in a factory, in the home, and in the public houses of Nottingham; it is set squarely among the working classes. And this has been done with a most impressively authentic air. Mr Reisz, in fact, has essentially “got it right,” and, since he has done that, he can be forgiven easily enough for having failed here and there to avoid cliche. For instance, the bedroom love scenes of these underprivileged and rather ill-tempered young people are now a kind of convention; and so they appear to be under Mr Reisz’s direction. Again, the fairground scene is a very old gimmick – predating the Osbornes, Braines, and Sillitoes by many years – and in this film its familiar artificiality stands out like a sore thumb, just because so much of the rest is made to seem so natural.
The second and even greater reason why the film succeeds is, undoubtedly, Albert Finney. His Arthur Seaton comes entirely alive in time and place; he is a tough young working man, not without brains, not without a special dash of sensibility beneath the toughness, philandering, self-assured (sexually and otherwise), uninhibited except by a certain basic and healthy pride, without any great ambition, but very positive in his intention to enjoy himself and not to be done down by the world – altogether a wholly credible and not completely dislikeable fellow.
With Mr Finney to carry the main burden of the acting, excellently supported by everyone and especially by Shirley Anne Field, the film does much more than avoid going wrong. It becomes what, unfussily, it tries to be: a genuine human document and, accordingly, a work of film art. If Mr Reisz cannot take the lion’s share of the credit for this, he has nevertheless done extremely well; he was already known for his documentary We are the Lambeth Boys, but he had not previously made a feature film. It is also fair to note that a dramatic weakness or two in the later stages of the film-story should be debited to Mr Sillitoe himself; he adapted his own novel to the screen.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Archive, 29 October 1960: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning reviewed | Film