Monday, December 30, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Some Came Running (1958)

When I was drawing up my list of 10 Classics to see in 2013, my friend Blake Lucas suggested I consider adding Vincente Minnelli's SOME CAME RUNNING (1958) to the list.

I appreciated the idea, as while I've seen and admired virtually all of Minnelli's musicals and comedies -- indeed, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) is one of my favorite films of all time -- I'd only seen a couple of his dramas. SOME CAME RUNNING, which was nominated for multiple Oscars, was a significant Minnelli film I was glad to finally cross off my "to see" list.

SOME CAME RUNNING, which stars Frank Sinatra, is based on a novel by James Jones, who also wrote FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. It was the 1953 film version of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY which netted Sinatra a Best Supporting Actor Oscar; five years later Sinatra was the top-billed star in the filming of Jones's SOME CAME RUNNING.

SOME CAME RUNNING has more than a little in common with the previous year's PEYTON PLACE (1957), and it also called to mind some of Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas, with themes including small town societal expectations and hypocrisy, not to mention adultery, alcoholism, rigidity, and frigidity.

Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, a hard-drinking one-time writer who ends up back in his hometown after leaving the army in 1948. Dave hasn't seen his older brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy) in years, and they have a frosty relationship. It seems Frank placed his orphaned little brother in a home after their parents died, and there's also some business, never fully explained, about how Frank's wife Agnes (Leora Dana) was depicted in a thinly veiled novel written by Dave. Some of Agnes's reactions when the past is brought up hint there's more to that back story than was depicted in the film.

Dave tries to clean up his act when he falls for an uptight writing teacher, Gwen (Martha Hyer). They have a push-pull relationship, with Gwen alternating between giving in to her attraction to Dave and then pulling back in fear and telling him she's only interested in his writing.

Dave has another circle of friends on the other side of town, including an alcoholic gambler named Bama (Dean Martin) and a floozie named Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine). Dave's worlds collide when dumb bunny Ginnie decides to go ask Gwen whether or not she plans to marry Dave. (Speaking of dumb bunnies, surely it's not a coincidence that Ginnie carries around a stuffed bunny purse, and in another scene Dave finds himself talking to an actual bunny.) Rejected by the shocked Gwen, Dave makes an impulsive decision, but the hand of fate has something else in mind.

This being a Minnelli film, it's no surprise that one of the film's greatest pleasures is its great widescreen '50s look, photographed in Metrocolor by William H. Daniels. Frank and Gwen's homes are especially gorgeous, and the climactic carnival sequence is terrific. In an interview for THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES, Minnelli said he wanted the carnival to look "like the inside of a jukebox," and I think he succeeded. The entire surreal sequence is very Minnelli, worth waiting for.

I especially liked that Sinatra's Dave showed a capacity to mature and grow, cutting out the drinking, resuming interest in his writing, and taking on unaccustomed responsibility in mentoring his troubled niece (Betty Lou Keim). It was a bit ironic that the more stable and "respectable" character, Gwen, was by comparison only able to evolve at a glacial pace.

The final scene seemed to open up more questions than it answers, particularly about Gwen -- I'd love to know how it was interpreted by others -- and indeed, the viewer wanting to know what happens after "The End" gives the movie a "good book" kind of feel.

The movie's drawbacks for me were an excessively long running time, clocking in at two hours and 17 minutes, and, well, Shirley MacLaine. Starting with the latter issue first, MacLaine received a Best Actress nomination for this film, but I've simply never warmed up to her, and I found myself impatient for her scenes to end so I could get back to the other characters. Her troubled, unkempt cutesy-pie character types just don't work for me.

The running time was problematic in part because it got to be a bit difficult watching so many characters engaging in self-destructive behavior; some condensation would have been helpful. In fact, while I'm a big Dean Martin fan and own countless Martin CDs, I think his character could have been trimmed or even excised for a more streamlined story. Martin's Bama is colorful, but I didn't feel that the relationship with Dave was critical to Dave's story, other than Bama perhaps being a sympathetic sounding board; his determination to drive himself into a diabetic coma just added additional angst to a film which already had plenty.

Despite my complaint about too many self-destructive characters, I must say that I was quite interested in the relationship between Frank and his enigmatic secretary Edith (Nancy Gates), who turns out to have hidden fires under her placid, efficient exterior. I've always enjoyed Gates, and in this case I would have enjoyed her role being quite a bit larger. Her quiet performance was the polar opposite of MacLaine's, and while MacLaine's excesses dulled my interest, Gates had my eyes on her for every second of every scene, trying to read her. She was excellent, and Frank's final line to her Edith was perhaps the most memorable sentence in the movie.

Gates, incidentally, had previously worked with Sinatra in SUDDENLY (1954). She'll be 88 on February 1st.

I've been reading FINDING MY WAY: A HOLLYWOOD MEMOIR by Martha Hyer, and found it interesting that she said she had trouble with the role of Gwen because she'd been working for years to be a more natural actress on screen, yet suddenly she was portraying an uptight, stiff character with pursed lips. She was very appreciative of Minnelli's direction and said she loved working for him, but she initially felt her performance was a flop -- only to find herself nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress!

In addition to nominations for MacLaine and Hyer, the film received nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Arthur Kennedy), Best Costume Design (Walter Plunkett), and Best Original Song, "To Love and Be Loved" by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. That very same year, Minnelli's GIGI (1958) swept the Oscars, winning a staggering 9 awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

A final reaction to the film: I was of two minds about the score by Elmer Bernstein. I found the doom-laden opening credits music, played while the sleeping Sinatra rides the bus to his hometown, to be overly bombastic. However, I really appreciated the scoring of later sections of the film. It's interesting I also had some trouble this year with Bernstein's score for THE TIN STAR (1957). I rarely react negatively to scores, but for my taste some of Bernstein's music in these films seems to inappropriately dominate what's on the screen.

SOME CAME RUNNING is available on DVD in the Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years Collection. The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix or Netflix. It can also be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

This MGM movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it will next be shown on February 12, 2014.

The trailer is available on the TCM website.

While SOME CAME RUNNING didn't work for me on all levels, it was absorbing and thought-provoking, with a great look, and I'm glad to have finally caught up with it. Thanks again to Blake Lucas for the suggestion!


Blogger barrylane said...

Intensely dislike this film -- but if you want to truly be bored then the novel, a thousand pages without punctuation, is recommended.

9:10 AM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

Great review!
When I was seeing this film, a sotrm started and cut our energy. I wanted to know the end so badly that I googled it, and read with surprise to my grandma, who was watching with me. I didn't expect that end!
Happy new Year!

10:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I saw this movie on the big screen when it came out. My feelings then were quite different from yours now, as I really liked Dean Martin's character and also enjoyed MacLaine's performance. I did a FFB post on this one a good while back.

12:57 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I saw this one a few years back when I was watching Arthur Kennedy movies. I liked some of it, disliked other bits, had no strong feelings one way or another, other than I loved Dean Martin in it.

I'm not a Shirley MacLaine fan at all, but oddly, I liked her in this. I think it's from the one part where (if I remember this right), Sinatra gets mad at her and says she can't understand the book and she says something about you can still like it without understanding it. I LOVED that part, and it really made me like her character in this.

Happy New Year!

7:13 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I got the Sinatra Golden Years DVD collection for Christmas, and am really looking forward to watching this one - will return to reread your review after doing so! Happy New year, Laura!

4:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Many thanks to you all for stopping by and sharing your opinions. (Bill, my dad reads all your books!) This movie seems to draw a wide variety of reactions. I'd love to hear what Judy and any other viewers think!

Best wishes,

9:37 AM  

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