Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Running


In my post about the great Kim Novak, I mentioned the way of Hollywood and miracles. She and many stars were the result of happy accidents only possible in an isolated creation chamber where all bets are covered cold. So one can take a chance on an awkward, shy girl from Chicago who came to LA for she knew not why. Or on a rodeo rider/poker player/roustabout just wandering in from the rails, and turn him into Robert Mitchum. Archibald Leach was a trapeze artist from England. Poof! he’s Cary Grant.

And the movies. Can one imagine Detour (1945) being born under any other kind of system? Gun Crazy (1949), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Marrying Kind (1952), The Big Sleep (1946), Holiday (1938), Lady from Shanghai (1948), Out of the Past (1947), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), My Darling Clementine (1946), Angel Face (1952) or White Heat (1949)?

Or Some Came Running (1959). Looking at the push novelist James Jones made as he proposed a $1,000,000 sell price for his yet-to-be-completed novel (by far the largest asking price in Hollywood history, eventually purchased for $200,000); looking at the best seller craze which dominated – and in many cases suffocated – 1940s and 50s Hollywood; and looking at the seemingly too-cool-for-school cast, one might think the movie, hoping to catch From Here to Eternity lightning-in-a-bottle, would be just another middle-brow social issue project come down with elephantiasis.

Enter Vincente Minnelli. One would be hard pressed to find two male sensibilities as opposed as those of Minnelli and James Jones: Jones a brawling small town southern Illinois street kid who knew little beyond the military and the men in it; Minnelli the complete urban sophisticate, far more in touch with style, beauty, female sensibility, and affairs of the heart. There's not a chance in heck that a director such as Minnelli (if we had one) would be brought together with a novel almost exclusively concerned with the problems of men, in the end-of-cinema Branding/Marketeer miasma we now suffer. But it was possible in 1958. And it is this melding and confrontation between the two sensibilities which gives us the miracle of Some Came Running: a swaying back-and-forth, beyond the control of Minnelli, the true "story" of the film, a thematic resolution unresolved. Until it is.

James Jones – perhaps because of the money and because he was allowed to hang with the Rat Pack – seemed pleased with the movie adaptation of his 1,200 page book. Which is kind of strange because Minnelli not only works to reverse the meaning of the novel, but challenges just about every part of Jones’s macho value system. Poker, drinking, broads, brothers, cars, back alley fights, the writer as warrior – all here, and all eventually trumped by a silly, stupid, madly-in-love girl named Ginny.

Veteran David Hirsch (Frank Sinatra) has decided to return home to Parkman, Indiana after 16 years away and a long hitch in the Army. Arriving from Chicago with a $5,500 poker bankroll burning in his pants, he learns he has arrived with something else as well.



Whatever happened to Shirley MacLaine, here so natural and warm and lovely. . .

But not for Dave Hirsch. Other things. His successful older brother, mostly. In a beautiful mix of sequences, Minnelli shows how much a part of mid-20th Century American male ethos Hirsch is, almost to the point of caricature. But not quite. Minnelli (helped by Elmer Bernstein's fine score) temporarily embraces the ethos, particularly in the strange and moving shot of Hirsch's favorite books. And in the character of gambler Bama Dillert (Dean Martin).



Hirsch meets a girl with the appropriate name of Gwen French (Martha Hyer), the daughter of a famous poet. She's also the teacher of a respected writing class at the University. And she's madly in love with Dave's talents as a writer.

Dave is already way past that.



Gwen won't have it. So Dave does what any red-blooded American male would do in the face of female resistance: run off to Terre Haute for girls and gambling. (And to learn of Bama's hat obsession.)



Upon Dave's return to Parkman, Gwen French receives two visitors.



At last, David Hirsch sees the light. And loses his best friend.



In the most famous and bizarre sequence, the work's contradictions erupt into a holocaust of color and movement. The sins are paid for. And in a final gesture of pure cinema, Some Came Running resolves itself.