America’s Technicolor underbelly

Some Came Running

Three decades before David Lynch turned the idea on its ear with Blue Velvet, 1950s Hollywood directors like Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli were producing wonderfully entertaining stories about the seedy, Technicolor underbelly of middle-class, small-town Americana. One of the best examples is Minnelli’s 1958 emotional potboiler Some Came Running, liberally adapted from the 1200-page James Jones novel and newly available to DVD as part of the Frank Sinatra—The Golden Years box set.

Some Came Running stars Sinatra in one of his most unusually vulnerable performances, playing a black sheep G.I./failed writer who returns to his Indiana home town with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. He also has a smitten floozy he barely knows in tow (Shirley MacLaine, poignant and absolutely adorable in an Oscar-nominated role), even as he falls for an uptight, blond professor and falls in with a devil-may-care gambler (Dean Martin, acting with Sinatra for the first time and stealing every single scene).

Minnelli is generally known as a director of musicals (he made three of the best—Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris and The Band Wagon), but when he applied his aptitude for exuberant color, design and lighting to a “serious” drama, as in The Cobweb, The Bad and the Beautiful and Some Came Running, the result was a thrilling hybrid of trashy theatrics, artistic mastery and honest-to-goodness, time-capsule-worthy social relevance.

The key to Some Came Running is that every single character is a hypocrite pretending to be something they’re not; the only exception is MacLaine’s floozy, who is too dumb to be anyone but herself. Minnelli builds the film slowly, with a seething restraint that breaks through in the final sequence—an eye-popping, Cinemascope chase through a neon-saturated street carnival that features a surprisingly emotional payoff.