DVD: Some Came Running (1958)

February 19, 2016 | By

SomeCameRunningFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Good

Label:  Warner Home Video

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: May 13, 2008

Genre:  Melodrama / WWII

Synopsis: Based on James Jones’ novel, a black sheep returns home after WWII and stirs up trouble in his hated home town.

Special Features: Featurette: “The Story of Some Came Running” (20:35) / Theatrical Trailer.

 


 

Review:

 

Having (literally) struck Oscar gold with James Jones’ novel From Here to Eternity (1953), Frank Sinatra gambled on the author’s Some Came Running, the second of two WWII-themed dramas the actor starred in 1958.

Whereas the prior film, Kings Go Forth, dealt with a Lieutenant stationed in the French Riviera near the end of the war, Running has former golden boy writer / G.I. Dave Hirsh returning (by drunken accident) to his hated home town, and using cash from a lucky gambling streak, he proceeds to essentially piss off his remaining family – brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy) – because he was shipped off to a boarding school after the family’s patron and saint died.

Frank married money via the town jeweler’s daughter Agnes (Leora Dana, who also appeared in Kings), whereas Dave relies on his gift with cards, and soon hooks up with the town’s resident drunk and itinerant gambler Bama Dillert (Sinatra’s bosom pal Dean Martin, in the first of their many cinematic pairings). Frank tries to re-introduce his younger brother to the town’s upper-crust society (and minimize family embarrassment) via the French family, and Dave soon falls for pretty Gwen (Cry Vengeance’s Martha Hyer), a literature teacher at the local college who has genuine admiration for Dave’s previously published novels.

Eventually the self-loathing writer entrusts his rumpled, trashed work-in-progress to Gwen, and friendship turns into a kind of affair, where Dave just won’t stop hounding and pushing into Grwen’s personal space bubble until there’s both a kiss and a classic cinematic fadeout to signal their one-time union.

It’s around here where the film starts to get a bit weird, moving from a wry, often mean little comedy-melodrama into full-blown melodrama with an improbable romance that in its filmic incarnation just doesn’t work. Dave loves Gwen and has stopped drinking and seeing a floozy – Ginnie (a ballsy Shirley MacLaine) – with whom he traveled to town from Chicago, but Gwen just shoos him away time and time again. On the phone, she professes devotion, but in person she rejects Dave with zero leeway, causing him to bounce back to the floozy and entertain a formal union.

When the End Credits fade up, Jones’ story lacks a classic resolution, but the film certainly fits into the wad of fifties melodramas where small towns are seething with bad social behaviour and secrets (Peyton Place), and tragedy is the pivotal shock that turns a juvenile mind into a maturing adult in the end scene.

The dialogue by John Patrick (Three Coins in the Fountain, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, High Society) and Arthur Sheekman (Wonder Man) really crackles, giving everyone several choice scenes where their characters stand out and show either some acting chops – Sinatra, Martin, and MacLaine are superb – or give bit players some rare memorable characters, like Nancy Gates (This Land is Mine, and Suddenly with Sinatra) as Frank’s zaftig twentysomething nighttime pastry dish, and unbilled Carmen Phillips (Marnie) as Bama’s sometimes catatonic girlfriend. Marion Ross (TV’s Happy Days) also makes an unbilled appearance as a nurse.

Perhaps the film’s main player, besides Sinatra, is director Vincent Minnelli, who applied stylized visuals to certain scenes using brilliant lighting schemes by cinematographer William Daniels. Some moments are quite daring (Dave and Gwen’s kiss happens in sudden silhouette); others are lit with a sleek commercial high contrast look reminiscent of a slick magazine ad (Frank moping by the phone, and Gwen’s kitchen and living room); but the most striking (and confounding for period critics) is the chase sequence through an amusement park where Minnelli has some shots resembling single colour, saturated moments from a MGM musicall; and choreographs all manner of objects being flopped in place / pulled across the screen / or globs of pastel lights spinning artfully in the background, like the revolving chairs.

There’s no doubt Minnelli managed to extract what many regard as Sinatra’s best performance (the actor-singer regarded the film with deep affection), but not unlike the director’s poke at Hollywood melodrama in the film-about-filmmaking, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), this is either a subversive reworking of the classic fifties melodrama into something much darker and unforgiving, or a brand of maudlin melodrama that becomes a little high-pitched in its denouement.

Where Elmer Bernstein was tasked with scoring Kings like a classic war drama, his approach in Running is occasionally bizarre, as though Minnelli wanted to deepen the atmosphere with lush thematic statements that don’t even correspond to direct screen action; some cues play almost in complete contrast, as though imposed by the director, while others are more traditional. There’s a strangeness to the score that seems to inform the audience with full vigor of what’s normally treated as subtext, and while Bernstein’s music isn’t inappropriate, it adds to the film’s off-kilter atmosphere, such as the bombastic Main Title music, and a few scenes where Dave visits the French household.

Like certain actors, Sinatra would seemingly call upon specific technicians again, like Daniels, to lens Never So Few (1959), Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and many others in the sixties, although this would be Sinatra’s second and final association with Jones’ work. The novel The Thin Red Line was filmed in 1964 and 1998, and From Here to Eternity was expanded into an 11 episode mini-series in 1980.

Warner Home Video’s DVD sports a decent transfer of the film, but this is definitely a work screaming for a full restoration, if not because of Minnelli and Daniel’s use of colour and unique lighting. The bonus featurette does a nice job covering the film’s production history, including the actors, the director, on-set conflicts, Sinatra and Martin evading fans, and the splendid locations, but there’s a heavy reliance on After Effects transitions that dates the editing and becomes overbearing. Still, there’s many interviews which contextualize both Sinatra’s film career, the Rat Pack that came into its own two years later in Oceans Eleven, and a line Dean Martin utters in the pair’s first scene (“Ain’t that a kick in the head!”) which became a cheeky song in that classic caper film.

 

Sinatra’s war films include From Here to Eternity (1954), Kings Go Forth (1958), Some Came Running (1958), Never So Few (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Von Ryan’s Express (1965), and None But the Brave (1965), which he also directed.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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