Monday, September 14, 2015

Movie Monday: Some Came Running


Some Came Running - Directed by Vincent Minnelli. Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer, and Arthur Kennedy. Released December 1958 from MGM.

I had never heard of Some Came Running--despite its pedigree, both in front and behind the camera--until Martin Scorsese used a clip from it in his three hour plus documentary A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, one of my favorites. The sequence Scorsese showed was so compelling and beautiful that I made a mental note to track the film down and watch it. Flash forward ten years(!) or so, and I finally got around to watching it through the magic of iTunes. 

Some Came Running is based on the book by James Jones, who had a massive hit with his first book, From Here To Eternity, which of course was a huge hit for Hollywood, as well. SCR was not received nearly as well, but MGM still gave the film the deluxe treatment, hiring Vincent Minelli to direct and getting megastar Frank Sinatra to play the main character, WWII vet Dave Hirsh, who returns to his home town after many years away. Dean Martin, fresh off his breakup with Jerry Lewis, was brought in for his first real dramatic role, and Shirley MacLaine was set to play none-too-bright-but-sweet floozie Ginnie Moorehead.

The film opens with Hirsh on a bus on the way back to his hometown of Parkman, Indiana, having been put there in a drunken haze by some buddies, along with Ginnie, whom he apparently hooked up with as well. Ginnie likes Dave, but now sober he is surly and mean, and basically tells her to take off. Soon after, Dave takes a room in a hotel, and deposits the small fortune he has on him in a bank--but not the bank owned by his brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), which causes quite a stir. Aside from his service in WWII, Dave became a semi-famous writer, but he seems unwilling to engage that part of his life now.

Things are clearly tense--very tense--between Dave and Frank, and the older Hirsh is not happy that his brother rejects Frank's attempts to have him meet the "right" people, preferring to drink and gamble, alongside new pal Bama Dillert (Dean Martin), a charming rogue who never takes off his cowboy hat. Ginnie flits in and out of Dave's life, even after he meets the daughter of a family friend, a schoolteacher named Gwen (Martha Hyer). Gwen tries to convince Dave that he has a real gift and shouldn't ignore it, causing Dave to fall for her. He still spends time with Ginnie, even getting into a drunken fist fight with a former hoodlum boyfriend of hers.

At this point, the film stays relatively in place, plot wise, as we watch all the characters bounce off around one another and go through their paces (all the supporting characters--Bama, Frank, Frank's wife Agnes, Frank's secretary--get their own subplots). Sinatra is good, if a bit morose, as Dave. As you might expect, his best scenes are with Martin as Bama the gambler, who had such a natural charm on screen it's sort of unbelievable. As much as I enjoyed Some Came Running (and I did), there were times where I wish the movie would ditch all these sad sacks and just follow Bama and his adventures.

The thing that kept me the most enthralled while watching Some Came Running was the visuals--shot in Cinemascope (unusual at the time for a non-epic), this movie is simply stunning to look at. Every scene is so beautifully composed and lit, the colors so vivid, that I think it's at least half the reason I enjoyed watching it so much. The final sequence (shown in the aforementioned Scorsese documentary), is so wonderfully staged that it's a complete knockout. It helps that MacLaine, in some ways playing a thankless role, is so good--sure, Ginnie is a sort of cliched Hooker with a Heart of Gold, but her inherent, somewhat dimwitted goodness is so sweet that when she does what she does at film's end, it really hits you. It's not a surprise she was nominated for an Oscar for this role.

Is Some Came Running another From Here To Eternity? No. It feels like it thinks it's more profound and deep than it really is, and at times Sinatra's character is such a self-involved dick that you wish everyone would just dump him and move on with their lives. Still, the performances are all quite good, and as I said the movie is just so beautiful to watch unfold that it's well worth your time.

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