Friday, June 12, 2009

Some Came Running (1958)

Some Came Running (1958)

Some Came Running is based upon the novel by James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, equally torrid fifties fare. According to The Guardian:
This 1958 adaptation of James Jones's semi-autobiographical novel about his early life as a novelist after leaving the army is, however, in other respects a quite brilliant look at the hypocrisy and conformity of small-town life in the Midwest and those who challenge it. Jones had a great ear for a title (From Here to Eternity, from Kipling) and this one comes from the New Testament (Mark 10:17): 'And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' A masterwork with a great performance from Dean Martin.
Directed by Vincent Minnelli, Some Came Running has the florid look of a juke box, and quite intentionally. As author Dana Polan describes:
Minnelli himself explained the inspiration for the scene's visual style in this way: “I decided to use the inside of a juke box as my inspiration for the settings… garishly lit in primary colors.” (2) His comparison is fitting for, along with the vibrant look of technicolor cinema, the jukebox captures that side of the American 1950s caught up in a loud kitsch, a visual display that proudly proclaims a showiness that verges on vulgarity. If a common cliché of the 1950s imagines the period as one of bland conformity, in contrast a whole series of pop phenomena – from the jukebox (and the splashy music contained therein) to the cinema to pastel fashions to overlarge cars with razor blade-like tail fins to the shimmer of Jell-O and so on – remind us of everything excessive in the decade; of everything, indeed, that exceeds bland middle-class propriety.
The film stars Frank Sinatra as Dave Hirsch, a soldier returning to his hometown in Indiana after World War II. After a troubled childhood, in which his older brother Frank abandoned him to a reform school, Dave found some success as a writer before going to war. Returning home depressed and bereft of inspiration, Dave has given up writing in favor of drinking and gambling. He picks up and discards a cheerful floozy called Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine.) Ginnie, however, is not so easily discarded and, having decided that Dave is the love of her life, decides to keep hanging around in spite of his inattention.

Meanwhile, Dave encounters his brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy) who has since married money, quite unhappily, and is the town jeweler, highly respectable. Dave's appearance immediately has Frank's wife Agnes in an snit, since the appearance of the black sheep of the family might imperil her social standing. Dawn, the teenage daughter, gravitates towards him immediately, however. Frank and Agnes whisk Dave away to the country club, where he meets Gwen the school teacher, played by Martha Hyer, all fire and ice. Gwen is fascinated by Dave as a writer but he treats her like another woman he has picked up. He has become so used to using and discarding tramps that he has no idea how to behave with a woman who touches his heart. However, after Gwen reads his story and sees his deeper side, Dave manages to get her to let her hair down, quite literally. It speaks volumes for the skill of the director and cinematographer that they were able to capture a passionate moment just by the lighting, with the heroine removing nothing but a few hairpins.

Dave thinks that his encounter with Gwen is the beginning of a life together but Gwen, frightened by his constant overtures, feels the loss of virtue too keenly and pulls back. When she meets Ginnie, Gwen is appalled to realize that Ginnie sees her as a rival for Dave. Unable to deal with the humiliation of being put in the same category as a woman like Ginnie, Gwen tells Dave that she never wants to see him again, even as his story for which she had such high hopes is finally published in a magazine.

Heartbroken and confused, Dave goes to Ginnie for consolation and impulsively decides to marry her. He despises her because even as Ginnie tries to read his story she does not understand it. But Ginnie, in the end, has something beyond wealth and knowledge, she has great love, and the willingness to sacrifice herself totally for the beloved. She is determined to seek transformation in order to be a good wife. Newly married, Dave and Ginnie plunge into the vivid cacophony of the carnival where, in a tragic culmination of events, Dave at last discovers the meaning of love and of life. Share


Julygirl said...

We were blessed with writers such as James Jones, William Inge (Picnic), Clifford Odets (The Subject Was Roses), to name a few, who captured the hope, yearning and conflicted expectations of the Post WWll generation as they struggled to make their way in a world that no longer resembled the one they had once known.

elena maria vidal said...

That's a great way to put it! Thanks, Julygirl!