Even though I was a teenager when I first saw the 1958 movie Some Came Running on Saturday Night at the Movies in the 1960s, I was impressed. Ever after I considered Frank Sinatra’s Dave Hirsch, war veteran who returned to a small Midwestern town intent on writing a great American novel, to be the actor’s finest role. Also impressive was Dean Martin as ‘Bama, boozer and gambler. (This is sometimes viewed as the movie in which Martin proved he could act and was not just the crooner and straight man he’d perfected in his immensely successful comedy film outings with Jerry Lewis.) I was shocked when the most pitiable character in Some Came Running was murdered at the end.
The author of the 1,200-page novel on which the film was based was James Jones, whose From Here to Eternity in 1951 caused a sensation and won him the National Book Award. It took me three times to wade through the tome. On that third try I kept imagining what a superb public TV mini-series it would make. But the unrelievedly downbeat climax made me think twice about that. In the novel the pitiable character of the movie became vile and nasty and was not killed. Someone else filled that spot. Knowing how the filmmakers had to my mind corrupted the story I felt I could never enjoy the movie again. That changed upon the publication in 2013 of The Best Film You’ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love.
Richard Linklater, director of Waking Life, Before Sunset, and Fast Food Nation, selected Some Came Running as his forgotten movie, writing, “The movie just rips the cover off the mannered ‘50s era of America—just that whole mind-set of conformity. It’s a wonderful melodrama.” Like me, Linklater thought it was the definitive Sinatra movie. Dave Hirsch was Sinatra. Moreover, the movie showed how well CinemaScope could be used. (“So much of what I like about this movie, I can’t articulate. It’s just a feeling, like looking at a painting, the way the colors and the camera just all add up….It’s just something to be experienced.”) So why was Some Came Running left in the lurch even though Shirley MacLaine received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, Martha Hyer took a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and its director was the esteemed Vincente Minnelli? One reason is Minnelli’s other movie that year: the large-scale, multi-Oscar-winning Gigi. Also, as Linklater surmised, audiences didn’t want to watch such a dark film and have their faces rubbed in hypocrisy.