music friday: otis redding
the eclipse and me

some came running (vincente minnelli, 1958)

It's easy to see why MGM would want to make this picture, from a novel by James Jones. Jones had previously written From Here to Eternity, which as a movie won 8 Oscars, including one for Frank Sinatra. MGM succeeded partially ... Some Came Running received five Oscar nominations, although it won none. Sinatra is very good here, but his role is far less showy than the Oscar-winning Maggio. But the movie did get three acting nominations, Best Actress Shirley MacLaine, Supporting Actor Arthur Kennedy, and Supporting Actress Martha Hyer.  (The actual winners were Susan Hayward, Burl Ives, and Wendy Hiller.) The women fare better than Kennedy, whose blustering performance didn't do much for me. MacLaine gets the showy role here, a woman with a heart of gold and not a lot going on in the old noggin. It's a stereotypical part, but MacLaine makes you believe in it, and makes you care about her. This was probably the best role in Martha Hyer's career, and she is great. Meanwhile, the film was made when Dean Martin was establishing himself as someone who, yes, could be a good actor. His next film was Rio Bravo.

Wikipedia calls Some Came Running a "crime film", which is pretty far-fetched. It's a melodrama about post-WWII America, and fairly astute about how difficult was the return from war (Sinatra's Dave Hirsh has just been released from the Army). But it's going too far to suggest this is the central theme of the film. What drives the narrative is class issues. Dave's brother Frank is a social climber who, along with his wife, looks down on Dave. Dave's own class status is somewhat fluid ... he's a veteran, although that doesn't seem to carry much weight in the small Indiana town that he returns to. MacLaine and Hyer lie on different ends of the ladder. MacLaine is a "loose woman", while Hyer is Gwen,  a teacher of creative writing who lives with her professor father. Gwen is a good fit for Dave, since Dave was once a novelist, although he hasn't written for a long time. MacLaine loves and looks up to Dave, Dave loves and to some extent looks up to Gwen, and Frank and his wife look down on everyone, although Frank also suffers because his wife comes from money.

I was reminded more than once of a favorite movie of mine, The Chase. That film also features a stratified society ... it even has Martha Hyer. But The Chase was way over the top ... Kael described it as the story of "a corrupt, blood-lusting Texas town in the mythical America of liberal sadomasochistic fantasies ... where people are motivated by dirty sex or big money, and you can tell which as soon as they say their first lines." Some Came Running is a "better" movie than The Chase. You never get the feeling that Vincente Minnelli is losing control. Better, sure, but The Chase is a lot more fun, and I like it enough that I've seen it several times. I can't imagine watching Some Came Running again. But watching it once was rewarding. #453 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time (The Chase isn't on the list). 7/10.