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October 03, 2011


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Eddie Carmel

I love this film, and am glad to read your thoughts on it any time. Arthur Kennedy's performance is something else: he really nails the overwhelming sense of failure that is Frank Hirsch, to the point that it actually becomes sort of comic, in a Joe Btfsplk kind-of way...for weeks after we saw it, my wife and I would laugh uncontrollably by just mentioning "Frank Hirsch." I didn't know at the time that Kennedy had created the role of Biff Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN, only finding it out after seeing SOME CAME RUNNING. It gives a whole new perspective to that great SEINFELD running gag where Jerry refers to George as Biff. "You're calling me Biff Loman?" George whines, deriding him as "the biggest loser in the history of American literature." It's a compliment to Kennedy to say that Frank Hirsch may just be the biggest loser in film, as well.

Dean Martin is just about perfect as it gets in this, as well. I could watch a whole movie with his character just looking cool and doing nothing, sort of a BAMA ON THE ROAD picture. And I wanna know, Glenn, what was your initial reaction to that gorgeous but slightly ridiculous late-movie image of shadowy Steve Peck throwing back a shot at the carnival, ready to kill?


Any chance you're going to post thoughts on "Margaret"? I found it to be the best thing of the year and my favorite piece since, probably, 2007.

Glenn Kenny

Sorry, Gus, haven't seen it and am not sure when I'll be able to. I hope before the year's end, for sure.

Tony Dayoub

That last scene at the carnival, particularly, Eddie, the moment in which Peck throws back the shot? That is the departure point from which SCR launches towards quite the lurid climax.

Having just seen the film for the first time, keeping in mind Glenn's description of the structure as a "schematic blueprint for a '50s epic contempo melodrama-entertainment event picture" and having just seen the complete work of another notable '50s director, Nick Ray, who also had a propensity for using color and composition to convey meaning, I'm struck by the similarity between the moment you describe and the moment in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE where Sal Mineo shoots one of Buzz's friends in the stairwell of that abandoned mansion. An otherwise typical melodrama spirals down into a nightmarish funhouse of parallel action quickly building until it reaches an assaultive conclusion.

Eddie Carmel

Tony- Thank you for that, you articulated what made that moment fascinating so much better than I ever could. I admit that the first time I saw that scene, I was convulsed with laughter (maybe it had to do with Elmer Bernstein's shock-music cue) but it's a moment that stuck with me because of the sheer visual magnificence of it (the whole carnival scene is like that, actually...and apparently because according to legend, Sinatra angrily tore the last twenty pages out of the script and yelled to Minelli "Well, we're back on fucking schedule NOW!") But it's absolutely one of the key films of the 50s, for precisely the reasons that both Tony and Glenn describe in such beautiful words.

Mark Asch

So pleased that you singled out the Ginnie-Gwen sit-down for this post. Saw for the first time yesterday as well, and am having a hard time coming up with a performance in the American cinema that's simultaneously as great and hard to watch as MacLaine's here.

Her "kooky," spontaneous physical and verbal tics are eager-to-the-point-of-forced: she overplays beautifully in response to Sinatra's cool weltschmerz, and some of his character's prejudicial feelings towards her seem to have seeped into the film's treatment of the character as well, which just makes character and actress more desperately eager to please...

It's a beautiful performance teetering on the brink of unmodulated disaster, and key to the film's tension between literary, expressionistic style and what you I think quite accurately call the film's "very moving contact with The Real." (Another moment of crazy synthesis would be the low angle shot of Dean, in his white hat, almost crouching against the swinging carnival lights, the delirium of postwar America at play.)


I'll have to see this again (as well as read Jones' book - I've read "From Here to Eternity" and "The Thin Red Line", but not this one) - while I generally prefer Minnelli's musicals to his non-musicals, this is beautifully filmed, and it's one of Martin's best dramatic performances (and as Mark Asch points out, MacLaine here is able to come down on the right side of annoying the characters without annoying us), but when I first saw this (which was about 15 years ago, I think), I just could not buy Sinatra as a writer. Maybe the passage of time will change that.


A big yes to everything everyone's saying. This is one of my favorite films as well.

Particularly thrilled to see Eddie single out Arthur Kennedy, one of the great supporting performances (no offense to Burl Ives, but Kennedy really should've won an Oscar for this). A special nod to Nancy Gates, whose character's affection for him suggests he might not be a complete loser, or at least needn't be.

Peter Nellhaus

"Some Came Running" couldn't have been too bad an experience for Dino, as he worked again with Minnelli in "Bells are Ringing". Nick Tosches' biography suggests adaptability on the part of Mr. Martin.

Tony Dayoub

lipranzer says, "...I just could not buy Sinatra as a writer. Maybe the passage of time will change that."

Yeah, I don't think that will change. It's this one thing which makes the movie a flawed one for me. While I'm no Mr. Plausible, there's just too much of a dissonance between Ms. French's ooh-ing and ah-ing over David Hirsch's manuscript and Sinatra's "baby"s and "dames" for me to buy into him as an author.

But then again, I imagine, in a quite different way, that this might have been what dealing with Hemingway the man was like vs. Hemingway the author.

Eddie Carmel

jbryant- Glad you mentioned Nancy Gates, who really makes what could've been a nothing part glow with inner life. Ditto on how her character reflects on Kennedy's...now I feel bad for calling him a loser :) One of the most interesting things he does in this movie is internalize that self-loathing to such a degree that it becomes, in the end, pretty sympathetic, despite the awful things we've seen Frank Hirsch say and do (dropping his kid brother off at the orphanage for a start

lipranzer (and Tony): Agreed, but I always think about how hard it is to portray an-all-caps-WRITER in a visual medium such as film or theatre...especially a working writer, and one who's supposed to be, er, good. I remember seeing Arthur Miller's (last?) play FINISHING THE PICTURE at the Goodman in 2004, a thinly-veiled dramatization of the making of THE MISFITS, and marveling at how poorly the character of "The Writer" based on Miller came across: at first I thought it was the fault of Matthew Modine in the part, but by the second act realized that Miller just didn't give the character any depth or sense of, uh, work...I never believed that this articulate, stiff and speechifying boob would be hunched over a typewriter giving John Huston rewrites for the next scene. In any event, I think Sinatra does a pretty remarkable job given the limitations that you both accurately identify. (Maybe I just felt that way given the description of him as a classical-music-loving, high-concentration sharp-intellect fella in Will Friedwald's SINATRA! THE SONG IS YOU, which made it easier to accept him as a novelist.)


I saw this film once, about three years ago I guess, and I think it's a masterpiece. I was entirely unprepared to be as emotionally floored, and just generally invigorated, by it as I was. I agree that Martin was never better, and his removal of his hat at the end...I mean, come on now. It's one of the few films I know that features characters behaving cruelly to another in a way that is (unfortunately) natural and not underlined as villainous -- unlikable, but not villainous. And the turnaround, away from that cruelty, is the moment of devestation.

Great, great movie.


I traveled from DC yesterday to see this, as it's one of my very favorite movies - and I liked it quite a bit less in the theater than I do seeing it on TV letterboxed. Everything seemed to play a bit broader on the big screen, and of course there was all the audience laughter - happily, none of it ironic, it's quite a funny film, but jarring all the same when you're watching something that's basically a tragedy.

Brian Dauth

The first time I saw the Ginnie-Gwen scene I was amazed at its power and beauty. Everyone talks about the final carnival scene, but it is this scene that is my favorite and the one I anticipate most eagerly.

I never thought melodrama could get better than this, but then I watched HOME FROM THE HILL and saw a film that is one Ginnie-Gwen scene after another -- it is almost too rich to bear.

Tony Dayoub

Bill, I think it's even more shocking to hear Bama's description of Ginnie, "pig," in our post-PC environment than it must have been then. So I'd like to think that Bama's removal of the hat in the finale is that much more powerful. What perfect symmetry in that one simple action by Martin. I was moved.

David Ehrenstein

Along with Joseph Losey, Vincente Minnelli was one of the directors I spent the most time examining in the 60's post-Godard ("Vivre sa Vie" and "Bande a part" changed my entire way of thinking about movies) and Fellini ( there's a very good reason Minneli pays tribute to "La Dolce Vita" In "Two Weeks in Another Town" -- they were on the same wavelength.)

What you cite about actors being required to hit their marks for the lighting in "Some Came Running" is most likely what's behind Rivette's antipathy to the film. In an interview "Senses of Cinema" ran some years back he complaieds that there are scenes where Minnelli "does nothing" with Shirley Maclaine. I truly don't agree. Like anygreat director he knew when an actor had the goods and it was his job to stand out of her way.

This is my all-time favorite Sinatra performance. He never really saw himself as an actor all that much (cpnsequently devoting the better part of his film career to "Rat Pack" piffle.) He was a "saloon singer" who acted occasionally. And as such was a complete "natural." He feels Dave Hirsch in his bones. The whole thing about "buying" Sinatra's Hirsch as a writer must be properly contextualized. He was a writer bBEFORE the war. Now that it's over he's not. He's a ruined man with no idea of what to do with his life. That's why he's so resentful of Martha Hyer treating him so respectfully. (Her problem is quite simple -- she's sexually frigid, and cripplingly in love with her own father.)

There are some incredible stories about the shoot including one where Sinatra got in the limo and went home because Minnelli was spending a ridiculous amount of time moving the ferris wheeel in the background of the climactic scene. According to Shirley Maclaine that scene was altered on Sinatra's suggestion as in the script (co-written by Gloria Stuart's husband) Sinatra's character was the one who Norma Shearer discovery (and Minnelli fetish object) Steven Peck was to have shot. Minnelli agreed with Sinatra. Shirley took the bullet and her career as a serious actress was off and running.

Dean Martin was a great actor who liked to pretend he wasn't. This is his most iconic role, but I also reccomend "Toys in the Attic." He's superb in that one.

Finally re "Some Came Running" -- Elmer bernsteins' amazing score. That great orchestral rumble played in the opening credits beneath a seemingly placcid shot of Sinatra snoozing on a bus as it pulls into town sent the scene for the tumult to come perfectly.

Tom Block

The "pig" line kills me, partly because Bama doesn't even address it to Ginnie (even though she's sitting right there), and partly because it's such a real-sounding, and genuinely mean, insult.

I first saw "SCR" around age 10 on The Late Show one night, on a tiny B&W TV. I only caught the last 10 minutes or so but I was fucking hypnotized by it--I was dying to know why Dean Martin was frantically tearing around a fucking CARNIVAL. When I finally saw the whole film decades later, I was amazed to see that it's in color; that little TV experience had been so intense I'd never even considered the possibility.


Seems to me the dissonance between Dave Hirsh's demeanor and his vocation is written into the character. It certainly bugs Gwen French.


My favorite moment in the Ginnie/Gwen scene is when Ginnie says she has nothing, "not even a reputation," and Gwen says she doubts that very much. The look of hurt that flashes across Ginnie's face for just a brief second upon hearing that response is sublime.

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