Thursday, August 27, 2009

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): Some Came Running

This is another one of those movies that’s been on TV many, many times, and somehow I never watched it until now. Based on a novel by James Jones, it’s the sort of small town melodrama/soap opera that Hollywood did so well during the Fifties. Frank Sinatra plays Dave Hirsch, a former GI returning to the town where he grew up. He’s also a writer with a couple of unsuccessful novels and some short stories under his belt, and judging by the hard feelings some of the townspeople bear toward him, one of those novels was autobiographical and not very flattering about his hometown and its citizens. Naturally, Dave’s return stirs up all sorts of emotional turmoil, especially after he becomes friends with a professional gambler called Bama, played by Dean Martin. Shirley MacLaine is around, too, as a sweet but not very bright redhead who attaches herself to Dave. The usual sorts of complications ensue – jealousy, infidelity, frigidity, dark secrets, knife fights – and things wrap up in a manner that surprised me, anyway, even though it’s not some sort of huge twist or anything like that.

SOME CAME RUNNING is really a product of the Fifties. People smoke constantly, and when they’re not smoking, they’re drinking, or talking about drinking. Really, booze is the subject of a lot of discussion in this movie. It’s also about half of a really good film, too. The scenes that center around seedy nightclubs or back-room poker games are great, with hard-driving saxophone music in the background and an atmosphere dripping with doom and sleaze. Then the romance scenes come along and are so schmaltzy they almost seem like they’re from another movie. Another drawback is that the occasional bursts of violence aren’t staged well and aren’t very convincing. But then, Vicente Minelli was never really known as an action director, so I suppose that’s to be expected. And to get really nit-picky, Dave’s manuscripts that figure into the plot are bound like movie scripts, a mistake that Hollywood always seems to make. Not only that, but at one point he sends off a story to THE ATLANTIC, and a few weeks later he gets a letter of acceptance, a check, and the issue of the magazine in which the story is published, all at the same time.

But despite all that, Frank is good, Dino is great as the easy-going Bama, and the rest of the cast does a fine job as well. I don’t think this is anywhere near a great movie, but it is a good one and well worth watching.

7 comments:

Jake Murdock said...

When I first saw this film, I really wanted to like it. But it came out flat to me. I even thought it was a bit "soap opera-ish." But like you said, Dean's performance was impressive and I always thought Jones gave the book a great title.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think you might need a fondness for the era and the actors to see past the plot. Been a while since I saw it but there were a lot of movies like this at that time, weren't there. Pictures about hysteria in some form, overladen with attempts to anesthetize it (booze, drugs, sex).

Bill Crider said...

Wow, James. This really takes me back. I saw it in the theater when it came out. At the time I was still wondering if Dean Martin could make it on his own. After seeing this movie, I never doubted again. A fine performance. I also liked Shirley MacLaine a lot. I don't remember much more about it, but I'd probably like it if I saw it again. I was a fan of this kind of thing in those days, both at the movies and in some of the books I read.

MP said...

I'm pretty fond of this, especially the performances. Another Minnelli movie from a couple years later that's even better than this is "Home From the Hill" with Robert Mitchum, based on the terrific William Humphrey novel.

James Reasoner said...

I haven't seen HOME FROM THE HILL. Sounds like it would be a good candidate for a Movies I've Missed post, so I've added it to my list.

Bill Crider said...

HOME FROM THE HILL is another dilly, and the novel would be good for "Forgotten Books." Humphrey was a Texas writer, too. George Peppard is good in the movie, but George Hamilton is, well, George Hamilton. Great theme song by the Kingston Trio didn't get into the movie, unfortunately.

James Reasoner said...

Maybe I should read the novel HOME FROM THE HILL first, then, because when I see a movie first I rarely if ever go back and read the novel.