Hot Saturday: Getting Out Alive
I’ve wanted to say this for a while, because I think it needs to be said: thank god Cary Grant is dead.
Look, I’m not glad he died, nor would I trade anything in the world for his films. It’s just that… well, watching my wife watch Hot Saturday, I know if the man himself were still up and about and tossing off bon mots with nary a care in the world, I know me and a lot of other men would be absolutely sunk in the dating game.
Even in Hot Saturday, Grant’s sixth motion picture, he’s an incontrovertible force of nature. It doesn’t hurt that the man he plays is rich, young and charming, but he’s so very Cary that no one else in the film quite compares.
He’s not the main character, as that’s Ruth (Carroll), a bank clerk in the small sleepy town of Marysville. The weekend activities for all of the kids in their late teens/early 20’s is to go to a roadhouse by the lake and dance, usually followed by canoodling in a river boat or making out in the back of a car– provided the car is comfortable enough. Meanwhile, the activities for all of the town’s elders is to gossip about it, talking about everyone behind their back and waggling their tongues with impunity.
Their latest victim of gossip is Romer (Grant), a young playboy who has more money than the entire rest of the town and who has an expansive lake house. He has a girlfriend who he quickly ditches once he sets sights on Ruth, which is where the trouble begins.
The point of gossip is to inflict social norms upon people, and craft group condemnation in the name of vainglorious morality. Believe it or not, this can be a bad thing.
Such is the case when Ruth and Romer begin a tenuous courtship, which Ruth insists should remain as friendship, even if she can’t help but flirt with the playboy a bit. This is exacerbated when later that night, Ruth’s partner of choice for the evening, Connie, takes her out on the boat and insists on some action. He gets pretty forceful about it, and she jumps out, not wanting to be raped by a drunk asshole.
Connie drives the boat away, so Ruth makes her way to Romer’s nearby lakefront house. They talk some more and flirt a bit, but Connie drives up and gets angry when his girl is once again spending time with Romer and not him, the crazed angry drunken rapist. Romer gives him one punch to the jaw, and he retreats quickly.
Unfortunately for Ruth, her return home by way of Romer’s limousine is sighted by the town gossip (also in the back of a car with a suitor) and the next day Marysville explodes with accusations of debauched adultery. Ruth is let go by the bank, kicked out of the local women’s league and her mother starts slapping her silly.
Ruth has one ace in her sleeve though. Her childhood sweetheart, Bill (Scott), has come to town and is completely unaware of the gossip. He’s camping out in a cave doing a geological survey, and Ruth decides in a fit of panic and in the middle of a rainstorm to climb the mountain to reach him. Climbing a mountain in the rain is more difficult than it looks, and she passes out in a puddle (see the top screenshot) in a fairly unsubtle symbolic crucifixion position for Bill to discover.
Bill takes her inside and undresses her so that she may warm up, proving that Bill wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t really know how to behave around women. Even though it’s already been eventful couple of days of almost being raped, having her life destroyed, and now being undressed while unconscious by the man she adores, Ruth takes this with stride and coyly hints that she came because she wants Bill to propose marriage.
In a lot of movies from this era, Bill would be the sweet childhood friend who believes her when he hears the gossip and listens to her side of the story. But Hot Saturday isn’t really a movie of its era, as we will soon see. Well, those of us okay with reading spoilers will see.
Instead, Ruth decides to keep the rumor to herself and hope Bill doesn’t hear otherwise– which is kind of unbelievable and infuriating. Since she keeps her trap shut, that gives Connie plenty of room to come in and gum up the works, inviting Romer to the dance hall and setting off a bit of confrontation. Sweet natured Bill blows up once he hears the rumors about Romer, and he tells Ruth to get bent.
Ruth, whose impulsive decision making throughout the film hasn’t ended well, decides to hook up with Romer. If there are rumors out there, they may as well be true. She shows up to her house the next morning and tells Bill what she’s done, as well as putting down any hope he may still have for their future; not trusting her was the end of the line. She says goodbye to her mother and father, and we see that she’s now running off with Romer.
The film’s ending is probably its best aspect, as it finally forces Ruth to deal with all of the lies she told as well as take the proceedings in an unexpected direction. And while the ending has the air of being upbeat– Romer even promises her marriage as they make their way to New York City– it’s hard to buy that either Ruth or Romer are going to come out of this happy.
Romer, who has spent the entire movie decrying marriage, has already shrugged off one love affair when the time suited him. And while Ruth was flirtatious, her enthusiasm for Bill was far deeper and stronger than anything she hinted at with Romer. They’re both taking what they can get; that’s some The Graduate level stuff here. I think if the movie had dared to be even a little more ambiguous with it, it may have worked out even better.
The gossip of the town may not have ruined her life as overtly as it first seemed, but in the long run it might have done far more damage than anyone could have anticipated.
Hot Saturday isn’t quit an encapsulation of its times– see below for more discussion of that– but it’s an interesting tale that uses the balance between all of the male leads to make its ending unexpected and interesting. No one in the movie is a complete saint, and the poison of gossip is once again shown for the demon it truly is.
Hot Saturday is one of those movies that’s well made and textured. I can’t imagine I’ll remember what it is a month from now, but it’s good enough to function as a mild diversion.
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- The chauffeur to Romer on his departing girlfriend: “She said you can go to h– uh, the devil.”
- As mentioned above, Connie gives it his all to try and rape Ruth. Luckily the guy parked their boat practically right on shore, otherwise she may have gotten her clothes wet.
- One scene, where we’re introduced to Ruth’s home life, has her discovering that her younger sister has stolen some of her lingerie. She lifts up her sister, and we’re treated to a scene of Ruth ripping them off her sister. This is followed by Ruth undressing and running a bit in a flimsy negligee.
- The speakeasy that the kids attend turns off its lights and has floor spotlights that make a girl’s legs visible under her dress. The singer also grabs her chest repeatedly throughout her song, which doesn’t seem scandalous but was definitely something that would be censored for years to come.
Here are some extra screenshots I took. Click on any picture to enlarge!
Trivia & Links
- The cover for the Universal Pre-Code Collection comes from this flick. Poor Ruth, even the cover designers want to showcase her without her clothes on!
- I don’t like to normally comment upon the looks of actors or actresses, but Lilian Bond, who plays the town gossip, Eva, is gorgeous. She has such a wonderful air of jovial cruelty, too. Here are some screenshots of her, and her Wiki:
- Andre Sennwald’s contemporary review in the New York Times thinks it is put together well, but adds,
The title suggests the social activities of the young people on their day off, the dancing, cheap liquor and furtive amour with which they escape once a week from their routine labors. Some may raise the criticism that the behavior in “Hot Saturday” is more typical of the years immediately prior to 1926—the year the novel appeared—than of the present.
- I bring that up because one of the more common assertions about the Pre-Code era is that it isn’t reflecting early 1930’s morality, but late 1920’s morality. The idea being that because of the length of production schedules and the proliferation of ideas, it takes a while for popular culture to reflect actual culture. Since there’s no reflection of the Depression anywhere in the nooks of Hot Saturday even after Ruth loses her job, so I can see why Andre would point it out in this review– its gaiety must have seem far removed from the time it was released.
- Screen Snapshots uses the movie as a way to look at the evolution of ‘The Cary Grant Persona’. I won’t say I agree with everything written there, but it’s a good read regardless.
- Director William A. Seiter would later make Sons of the Desert with Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brother’s Room Service in 1938 and Kay Francis’ wartime vehicle Four Jills in a Jeep.
- DVD Talk calls it ‘a great picture’, noting that:
The rather amazing finish rescues Nancy in almost Cinderella fashion, ending with the suggestion that the quickest way to happiness and riches is to lose all your friends in a terrible scandal.
- After meeting on the set of this film, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott would live together until 1942. They always claimed it was a friendship thing, but people would gossip (!) about how they were a homosexual couple. Apparently studio heads threatened to boycott the actors so long as they flagrantly lived together; I guess in accordance with the moral of Hot Saturday, Cary Grant needed Cary Grant to swoop in and save him from the mess. Here are some photos of Scott and Grant from their ‘bachelor’ days.
- The film’s poster is pretty bad.
Awards & Accolades
- Featured in the Wikipedia List of Pre-Code Films.
- This film is available as part of the Universal Pre-Code Collection. You can pick it up on Amazon, or it can be rented from Classicflix. It’s on the same disk as Torch Singer.