Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon: «Some Came Running» (1958)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, Some Came Running (1958) tells the story of Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra), a cynical World War II Army veteran and failed novelist, who arrives by bus at his hometown of Parkman, Indiana. He is accompanied by Ginny Moorehead (Shirley MacLaine), a dim-witted but good-natured woman of loose morals from Chicago, who has fallen in love with Dave during the journey. To Ginny's disappointment, Dave gives her 50 dollars to return to Chicago and then checks into a hotel. Although he has been away from Parkman for 16 years, Dave is soon recognized by the locals, who report his return to his older brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), a successful jewelry store owner.

Still resentful over childhood misunderstandings, Dave refuses to move into the Hirsh home, but reluctantly agrees to have dinner with his brother, his sister-in-law Agnes (Leora Dana) and his 17-year-old free-spirited niece Dawn (Betty Lou Keim). Also invited to the gathering are retired Professor Robert Haven French (Larry Gates) and his beautiful daughter Gwen (Martha Hyer), who teaches creative writing at the local college and admires Dave's work. Dave immediately falls in love with Gwen, but she constantly rejects his advances, despite the fact she is also attracted to him. His failed romance with Gwen inevitably drives Dave to the local bar, where he befriends professional gambler Bama Dillbert (Dean Martin) and reunites with Ginny, whose jealous ex-boyfriend, small-time Chicago mobster Raymond Lanchak (Steven Peck), has come to Parkman to stalk her. Meanwhile, Gwen finally admits that she loves Dave, but still refuses to enter a relationship with him because of his erratic lifestyle. Frustated, Dave decides to marry Ginny, even over Bama's objections. After they leave the judge's house, the newlyweds are followed by Raymond, who shoots and wounds Dave. When he attempts to fire again, Ginny throws herself in front of Dave and is killed. The next day, Dave, Bama and Gwen all attend Ginny's funeral.

Dave Hirsh: Dawn, honey, bumming around can only help to make you a bum.

Born and raised in Robinson, Illinois, James Jones enlisted in the U.S. Army at the onset of World War II, when he was just 17 years old. Assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment, he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, in December 1941. He then followed his regiment to Guadalcanal, sustaining an injury on his ankle at the Battle of Mount Austen, the Galloping Horse and the Sea Horse. After his military discharge in July 1944, Jones felt inspired by his war experiences to write From Here to Eternity, which focus on three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. Published by Scribner's in 1951, the novel was a critical success and an instant best-seller, winning the National Book Award for fiction a year later. Within a week of its release, Columbia purchased the screen rights to From Here to Eternity and entrusted the adaptation to director Fred Zinnemann, who surrounded himself with an illustrious cast that included Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. From Here to Eternity (1953) was a massive hit, winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Sinatra.

Encouraged by the popularity of From Here to Eternity, Jones set out to write a worthy follow-up to his acclaimed debut novel. The result was Some Came Running, a partially autobiographical account of a cynical war veteran named Dave Hirsh, who returns to his hometown in 1948, after a failed career as a writer. The title of Jones's second novel was inspired by the Gospel of St. Mark 9.25, which refers to those who seek the meaning of eternal life, but are prevented from finding it by their obsession with materialism. Hoping to recreate the success of From Here to Eternity, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired Some Came Running for $250,000 in January 1957, eight months before the book's release. When it was finally published by Scribner's in November of that same year, the novel was savaged by critics, who described it as «rambling» and «self-indulgent.» MGM was undeterred, however, and greenlighted the project in the spring of 1958. Sol C. Siegel, who had just taken over Dore Schary's position as head of prodution at Metro, decided to supervise the picture himself.

Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine
To turn Jones's 1,200-page into a film script, Siegel hired John Patrick, who had penned the musicals High Society (1956) and Les Girls (1957), and Arthur Sheekman, best known for his collaborations with the Marx Brothers. Patrick and Sheekman cut down many of the book's secondary characters and eliminated flashbacks that they considered confusing, condensing the timeline from three years to a few weeks.

Siegel offered the chance to direct Some Came Running to Vincente Minnelli, who had recently returned to Hollywood from the French shoot of The Reluctant Debutante (1958), starring Rex Harrison. Minnelli immediately accepted the assignment, attracted to some of the story's major themes, especially the tortured artist, the conflict between two brothers who are complete opposites in personality and the social strictures of small-town America. Minnelli later wrote, «The James Jones novel was long and rambling, heavily populated, but I felt the main characters were interesting and well thought out.»

Siegel initially considered casting Marlon Brando as Dave Hirsh, but soon abandoned that idea in favor of Glenn Ford, one of the most profitable actors in Hollywood at the time. Eventually, however, he assigned the role to Frank Sinatra, whose film stardom had risen very quickly after winning the Oscar for From Here to Eternity. It was Sinatra who suggested that the part of girl-for-hire Ginny Moorehead — originally intended for Marilyn Monroe — be given to newcomer Shirley MacLaine, whom he had seen on a Pat Boone television special. As MacLaine wrote years later, her casting came about because «they couldn't get Shelley Winters.» She continued, «Upon learning that I had landed the role of Ginny Moorehead, I immediately went to a specialty store and had a stuffed toy dog made, which I would use as a prop for the role. I boarded a bus for Madison and arrived on location completely in character. Frank saw me get off the bus and just fell down laughing, 'That's Ginny,' he said.»

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin
Sinatra was also responsible for the casting of his friend and fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin as gambler Bama Dillert. Wanting to become a «real actor,» Martin had recently dissolved his partnership with Jerry Lewis, with whom he had collaborated since 1946. However, his first solo film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), was a huge commercial failure, confirming the popular view that Martin without Lewis was a «box-office no hoper.» 

Martin's agency, Music Corporation of America (MCA), came to the rescue, deciding that all their troubled client needed was an Eternity-style comeback in Edward Dmytryk's forthcoming World War II drama The Young Lions (1958), with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. Despite the pre-release buzz on The Young Lions, MGM had not forgotten the fiasco of Ten Thousand Bedrooms and did not want Martin back, singing or non-singing. When Sinatra refused to consider anyone else for the role, Siegel was forced to give in and subsequently hired Martin for $150,000.

Some Came Running was filmed between early August and eary October 1958 on location in Madison and Terre Haute, Indiana. The women in the film were put in a hotel in Madison, while Sinatra and Martin rented a house together for the duration of the shoot. Many of Sinatra and Martin's friends from Hollywood and Las Vegas dropped in to visit for card games and drinks, and some of them brought girls from Chicago with them. The poker parties sometimes went on until dawn. To Minnelli's consternation, the two men would report to the set hungover and bleary-eyed, barely remembering their lines.

Frank Sinatra and Vincente Minnelli on the set
It did not help that there was no rapport between actors and director, and that Sinatra and Martin did not take guidance well. They found Minnelli to be too prim and proper for their taste and were annoyed by «the artsy-fartsy,» as Martin nicknamed their director, who took a long time to set up each and every shot. They resented spending hours on a single shot just because Minnelli wanted a ferris wheel to be seen in the background or a vase to be shot holding the right kind of flowers.

On a number of occasions, Sinatra fumed and threatened to walk out. In fact, at one point, Sinatra left the set and did not return until the next day, forcing Minnelli to shoot around him. Later, deeply upset, Sinatra talked Martin into abandoning the film altogether. They flew to Los Angeles, where Siegel tried to persuade them to resume their work. Sinatra complained about Minnelli's interminable takes and waste of valuable time on minutiae. Sensing that Sinatra was just bored and tired of hanging around a provincial town like Madison, Siegel reluctantly approved one week's vacation for his capricious but indispensable stars, after which they returned to Indiana to finish the film.

Some Came Running had its world premiere in Los Angeles on December 18, 1958, before opening at Radio City Musical Hall in New York on January 22, 1959. The film drew widely varying critical responses. Justin Gilbert of the Mirror dismissed it as «acceptable screen entertainment — but not much more.» TIME magazine also attacked the production, lamenting «the spectacle of director Vincente Minnelli's talents dissolving in the general mess of the story, like sunlight in a slag heap.» Some Came Running fared better in the trade press, with Variety rating it as «certainly one of the most exciting exciting pictures of the season.» Making several «Ten Best» lists for 1958, the film went on to become one of MGM's biggest hits of the year, grossing over $4,000,000 at the box-office.

At the 31st Academy Awards ceremony held at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood in April 1959, Some Came Running received nominations for Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actress (Martha Hayer), Best Supporting Actor (Arthur Kennedy), Best Original Song («To Love and Be Loved») and Best Costume Design. Sinatra was somewhat responsible for MacLaine's nomination. The actress said, «I always thought he was responsible for my good performance in Some Came Running. 'Let the kid get killed,' he said to Vincente Minnelli and to the head of the studio. 'If she dies, she'll get more sympathy. Then she'll get nominated.' He was right.» MacLaine did not win, however; she lost to Susan Hayward for I Want to Live! (1958). For their part, Hayer lost to Wendy Hiller for Separate Tables (1958), while Kennedy lost to Burl Ives for The Big Country (1958). Although Some Came Running did not win in any of the categories for which it was nominated, 1959 was a banner year for Minnelli, who received the Oscar for Best Director for Gigi (1958). He could be proud of the fact that together his two films had garnered a total of fourteen Academy Award nominations.

This post is my contribution to The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood. To view all entries to the blogathon, click HERE.

Sinatra in Hollywood: The Film Career of a Screen Icon by Tom Santopietro (St. Martin's Press, 2009)
The Frank Sinatra Film Guide by Daniel O'Brien (B T Batsford Ltd, 2014)
Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy (St Martin's Press, 2009) 


  1. My mom and I adore the town of Madison. It's become one of our favorite places to go. Outside of their local movie theater, they have a star on the sidewalk for the film (and a historical landmark sign for Irene Dunne, who grew up in Madison). We even stayed at the hotel you mentioned!

    While Sinatra and MacLaine do terrific work in this film, my eye always goes to Dean Martin. What a performance! Thanks for sharing this well-done piece with us!

    1. Oh, I didn't know that. That's awesome!
      I agree completely. Dean is amazing in this film.
      Thanks for reading - and for hosting. :)

  2. I agree with Michaela that Dean is very, very good in his performance. And I also believe Marilyn wouldn't be right for the role: Shirley inspires, at least in me, more sympathy than Monroe. Great post!

    1. I agree. Marilyn would have been all wrong for the role of Ginny.
      Thanks for reading.