Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)

Some Came Running 2Director Vincente Minnelli created one of the warmest portrayals of American family life on film in the great musical Meet Me in St Louis (1944). But he gives a very different, darker take on families in Some Came Running, a 1950s melodrama which tackles the type of subject matter that Douglas Sirk made his own. The colour is gorgeous (or at least I assume it was originally – the DVD I have in the Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years collection looks a little faded at times), and there are many Cinemascope set pieces, including a glossy dance scene. However, the town’s idyllic appearance is constantly undercut by suggestions of the backbiting and nastiness just beneath the surface of life in the fictional Parktown.

Sinatra and Arthur Kennedy

Sinatra and Arthur Kennedy

When bitter veteran Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra) returns home from the army, he finds plenty of conflict here too. At first it seems as if there is a world of difference between black sheep Dave, the gambler and drunk, and the older brother he left behind, Frank (Arthur Kennedy). But before too long it is clear that Frank is also a gambler, though he does his betting in a respectable way as a banker – and his sex life is just as seedy as Dave’s, as he cheats on his wife with his secretary (Nancy Gates).

The main difference between Frank and Dave, it seems, is that at least Dave is open about his chaotic life. A failed writer who is constantly trying to throw away a battered novel typescript, he falls heavily for local teacher Gwen (Martha Hyer) – but soon discovers she is reluctant to enter into any real relationship. Every time he hits the bottle after a rebuff, kind-hearted “good time girl” Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine) is there to console him. MacLaine got an Oscar nomination, but I’d have to say her character seems very stereotyped as the floozie with a heart of gold, and none of her scenes really ring true to me. In general, none of the women really seem to be complete characters compared to the men.  Betty Lou Keim does a good job with the screen time she gets as Dave’s niece, Dawn, while Leora Dana is icily two-faced as her mother, Agnes. but neither of them is fully developed.  

Sinatra and Betty Lou Keim

Sinatra and Betty Lou Keim

This film is based on a long novel by James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, and at times there is a feeling of too many storylines being crammed in. One troubling loose end is the revelation near the start that Frank put his younger brother in a children’s home when they were orphaned – the reason for Dave’s burning resentment. (Kennedy was only a year older than Sinatra, so it’s a bit hard to believe in such a large age gap between the brothers!)  After this moment, I was fully expecting a major confrontation between Frank and Dave later in the film where there would be more discussion of this painful past, but in fact it is never mentioned again. This scene does suggest how self-centred Frank is, though, as he suggests he was the one to be pitied (“just think how I felt – putting my own brother in a home!”) and later on he also turns Dave’s current problems into an attack on him. “How could you do this to me?”  

A fine mess for Sinatra and Dean Martin

A fine mess for Sinatra and Dean Martin

I did enjoy Some Came Running, but I think it is uneven at times and not quite the masterpiece suggested in an over-enthusiastic featurette on the DVD. The film sometimes feels rather episodic and soapy,  and it is hard to suspend disbelief enough for some of the plot twists. All the same, it has a lot of enjoyably sharp dialogue, and some fine performances, particularly by Sinatra, who is good as this kind of hard-boiled/self-pitying character, and Arthur Kennedy. I also liked the interplay between Sinatra and his real-life friend Dean Martin, cast here as Bama Dillert, a fellow-gambler who has an even worse drink problem than Dave’s. Bama seems charming and funny but is chillingly misogynist, so that, although his character might start out as comic relief, he increasingly shows a darker side. The pair’s work together here is now seen in retrospect as signalling the start of the Rat Pack.  

Martha Hyer as Gwen with Sinatra

Martha Hyer as Gwen with Sinatra

Before watching, I knew that the film included an Oscar-nominated original song, To Love and Be Loved by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and naturally assumed that Sinatra would be the one to sing it on the soundtrack – maybe with Martin joining in. I was very surprised to find out that in fact Shirley MacLaine sings it completely out of tune in a drunken scene in a bar, and that’s it! Surely Sinatra could have sung it over the opening or closing credits? He did record the song, but, as with Monique from Kings Go Forth the same year, I’m puzzled as to why it wasn’t included in the film soundtrack.

The film’s greatest sequence, though, is undoubtedly the dark climax set against the backdrop of a carnival, brilliantly filmed by cinematographer William H Daniels. The mood here, as a colourful celebration turns into a surreal nightmare, is reminiscent of the Halloween sequence in Meet Me in St Louis – reminding us that there is underlying darkness at times even in the sunniest Minnelli film.    

For further reading, Paul Mavis gives an interesting take on the film at DVD Talk – he argues that Sinatra is miscast, feels it doesn’t live up to the book and doesn’t like the way the ending has been rewritten, but still thinks it is worth watching.  Laura also recently reviewed it at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings and included some background on Martha Hyer’s feelings about the character she plays here.

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)

  1. ellenandjim

    I’ve read the book & seen the film. The over-rating of the latter needs to be seen in context: during this politicized era so little could get through. Sinatra I recall as powerful. The book one of these supposed middlebrow novels far better Andorran of US norms at time. Gore Vidal writes brilliant essay on it

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Ellen, you’ve intrigued me to read Vidal’s essay – I’ll see if I can find it. I’m also interested in your point about the politicised era – I’d like to read more about this. Thank you for this..

  2. Vienna

    Terrific review. I’ve never seen this film so can’t comment on it. But you have made me want to get hold of it – soon!
    It does seem daft that Sinatra and/or Dean Martin didn’t sing.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Thanks, Vienna, and I hope you get to see it soon! I can see that it might have been awkward to have Sinatra or Martin start singing beautifully while in character, but I definitely think one of them could have sung over the credits.

  3. Colin

    I’ve always liked this film Judy. Now I’ve never read the book so I can’t comment on how it compares. Anyway, I’m not that bothered; I feel the movie works on its own terms, and that’s always the clincher for me. Sure it’s a bit soapy at times but Sinatra, Kennedy and Dino are all on good form, and Minnelli’s direction is strong. Minnelli of course followed this up with another enthralling look at a less than perfect family in Home from the Hill.

    Reply
  4. Judy Post author

    Colin, I agree the movie works on its own terms, as you say – I would be interested to compare it with the book if I do get round to reading it, but it certainly isn’t essential. I haven’t seen ‘Home from the Hill’ but will hope to do so – thanks for the suggestion!. There seem to be a lot of great films from this era about flawed families, and I am hoping to see more of them.

    Reply
  5. Rod Croft

    When “schedule overruns” became an issue on the set of “Some Came Running”, Sinatra, reportedly, excised 20 or so pages from that section of the script not yet filmed, and this may explain the “troubling lose end(s)” that you have mentioned.

    Relations between the star and director, Minnelli, were not always amicable and, at one stage, the recently appointed Vice President in Charge of Production at MGM , Sol E. Siegel, found it necessary to visit the set to broker a “peace settlement” between the two.

    Still, the film made money for the studio, and, in any business, that means “success”.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Rod, the chopping out of those 20 pages might certainly explain the way some of those loose ends are left dangling, although I must say the film feels quite long as it is, so I think Sinatra probably had a point! Many thanks for the interesting background information here – it sounds as if there was as much tension off-set as there is between the characters in the film. I suppose it was inevitable that two strong personalities like Minnelli and Sinatra both had their own opinions about how they wanted the film to come out and the two didn’t necessarily coincide.

  6. Sam Juliano

    Judy, sounds like you and I are in complete agreement on this particular film. The greatest asset in the cinematography of celebrated cinematographer William Daniels, and the carnival sequence is the show piece in the film. Moreover I agree that Shirley McLaine should not have been the one to deliver the song, and you frame the results tellingly. Where was Sinatra indeed? The whole matter of tension beneath the surface is Sirkian, but this film on balance is nowhere near the works of that icon. It’s decent enough, but yeah, no masterpiece remotely.

    Excellent, perceptive piece here Judy!!

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Sam, I do like this film, but hoped for even more. Having just watched ‘Kings Go Forth’ too, I’m puzzled that both these films from 1958 have the same problem, ie Sinatra not singing the great song in each soundtrack. I would be really interested to know why… a rights issue, or a desire to separate himself as singer and actor? Your comment also reminds me that I need to see more of Sirk’s films – must get to grips with my box set soon! Thanks so much for the kind comment.

    1. Judy Post author

      Hi Dan, although I liked this film, Minnelli’s musicals are my favourites by him – especially ‘Meet Me in St Louis’, ‘The Bandwagon’ and ‘An American in Paris’. Hope you enjoy his work – I’m sure you will!

  7. John Greco

    It’s been a while since I watched this but I do remember being impressed with Sinatra’s performance and the cinematography. I have read a few of James Jones novels (From Here to Eternity, The Pistol, The Merry Month of May) but never got around to reading this one.

    Reply
  8. Rod Croft

    Judy,

    The reason for Sinatra’s failure to sing the title song in the both films you have mentioned is a perplexing question, that, unfortunately, may have only been answered by the artist, himself.

    It is interesting that, in his next film after ” Some Came Running”, (i.e. Capra’s return to Directing – “A Hole In The Head” (1959)), Sinatra sings “All My Tomorrows” behind the opening credits and joins with co-star, Eddie Hodges, in performing the Oscar winning hit, “High Hopes”.

    The soundtrack songs were originally released by Capitol Records, although “All My Tomorrows” achieved much more attention and success when re-visited by Sinatra and recorded under his own “Reprise” label.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      It’s certainly puzzling about those songs – maybe even more so in ‘Kings Go Forth’ because, as I understand it, Sinatra’s recording of ‘Monique’ was on the soundtrack album but not in the film. I haven’t seen ‘A Hole in the Head’ as yet but will look forward to doing so, and am pleased to hear that the soundtrack songs are present in that one! Thanks for sharing this interesting information, Rod.

  9. Laura

    Hi Judy! I’m catching up on reading some of my favorite blogs this weekend and enjoyed reading your take on this film; it was interesting to compare it to my impressions since I saw it recently as well. (And I appreciate the link very much!) It’s interesting there were some things that were never fully developed, such as Agnes, when there were hints she might have an interesting back story; I guess there was only so much time in the movie!

    I’m also enjoying your in-depth look at Sinatra!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Laura, thanks so much for dropping by and commenting, and it was a pleasure to link to your piece. I also enjoyed comparing our impressions. I agree with you that not everything could be fitted in, but it is interesting to wonder about the elements that weren’t included. I’m thinking this could turn out to be a movie that grows on me when I return to it. Thank you again!

  10. Richard Iaconelli

    This film has more going on in it than meets the eye. It is a 1950’s melodrama until about the midway point— then it turns the form on its head. Things don’t come together in the end-the characters make mistakes- and things implode. It really is the American lead-in, for the European New Wave film. (Problems don’t get resolved in traditional fashion, people make mistakes, people pay for them.) Note for instance, how at every critical point, the character involved cannot speak; Minnelli simply gives them a reaction shot.

    Reply
    1. Judy Post author

      Richard, thanks for this great comment – you’ve given me a lot here to think about, with your comments about how the film bridges the gap between 1950s melodrama and New Wave. I had noticed there are some great reaction shots, but will make sure to look out for more of them when I revisit the film.

  11. Pingback: Which is Frank Sinatra’s best film performance as an actor? | Movie classics

  12. Pingback: All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, 1953) | Movie classics

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