For those who think of an evening's entertainment as a noisy way to stop thinking for a while, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (at the Brattle) may be just that. But those who carry an active mind to the flicks may find more. Like them, Albert Finney seems to be looking for something more than life has so far offered, if only a philosophy of life.
Bosley Crowther (and many others) urged me to see an "absolutely staggering" picture--a funfest of wild drinking, bad words, sexy scenes and naughty thoughts, with a few fat moral issues to cement them together in the plot. But this movie is not a celebration of barbarism, nor even a squalid stripping of souls on the "Marty" bandwagon. If you arrive drunk or depressed you may not enjoy yourself, because there are admittedly some pretty unpleasant scenes. Your date may not enjoy herself, because there's no heroine to identify with.
But everybody else can have a fine time--everybody with enough brains to be here in the first place. "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" makes a British slum saga seem like the musings of a man lying on a hill, head on fingers. Finney is a good and thoughtful man; he spends his allotted hour-and-a-half looking for a livable, just philosophy of life. The fact that he pursues life's clusive truths through a variety of well-photographed beds and bars keeps us wide awake, but you guys have searched for the same things in Harvard common rooms, at Elsie's, on the riverbank, in Radcliffe living rooms.
Finney is about your age, but he didn't quite make it in college. Like you, he is a little disgusted that his parents practice the living death of nightly television. He wonders what life has to say to those who are energetic enough to cross-examine it. What, for instance, would the Sphinx say if you busted it in the nose with a beer bottle? Seeking life's secret through violence, Finney hopes to understand the order of things by upsetting it. Here at Harvard, that procedure is called the scientific method.
The most monolithic, if not orderly, object in Finney's neighborhood is the fat lady who loiters at the alley gate. Finney seeks his insight, when near her, by aiming a delightful series of objects and projectiles at her ample behind. He seeks truth in drunkenness; he seeks it in sex. He does indeed go to bed with his girl friends on camera, but I was disappointed to find his companions more modestly clothed than in the poster out front.
The whole gamut of situations in Finney's cinematic odyssey is trite. There is the alley beat-up, the married woman knock-up, the beerhall cut-up and three henpecked husbands. At the end our hero ambles into the smoggy milltown sunset holding hands with a nice girl. It's all warmed over, but it tastes fine. Whether fishing on the proverbial riverbank or visiting his friendly neighborhood abortionist, Finney is obviously looking for a way to understand (and like) his life.
Finney is tougher, handsomer, more interesting and less schooled than you are. From here on, Finney is you, at least in those rare moments when you look morality in the eye. We watch him stand eye to eye with the girl he's made pregnant, later eye to eye with her surprisingly decent husband.
This "truth" that Finney seeks (according to this reviewer) is more than the boring note on which many midnight bull-sessions disperse. Finney seeks, and so do you, the answers to questions something like these:
1. How much consideration and help do people owe to each other? (Quite a lot, Finney finds.) 2. How much of the truth is beneficial between friends? (As much as the friend seems anxious to hear.) 3. How much does being good conflict with having fun? (Not much.) 4. Can violent fun and beery, sexy opiation pierce life's barriers and illuminate its corners? (Yes.)
What Finney and you and I don't realize about our television-drugged parents is that by now they have acquired some sort of life-view, and they have pocketed it, like some foreign coin saved from a trip abroad--too interesting to discard and fun to show off, but not of much use any more.
The boisterous saga of Mr. Finney is preceded by a violent, impressionistic travelogue, stridently sound-tracked, in which pastoral Dutch countryside appears as it would to a man being dragged through it by his horse's stirrup--interesting but unpleasant.