Some Came Running

(Vincente Minnelli, USA, 1958)


Throughout his splendid career in Old Hollywood, director Vincente Minnelli pursued two main lines of filmmaking: musical comedy and melodrama. These two styles are not so opposed as one might imagine. As Minnelli’s admirers have often pointed out, his musicals (such as Brigadoon, 1954) are full of anguished melodramatic emotion; and his melodramas (like Home from the Hill, 1960) are as flamboyantly stylised as any musical.


Some Came Running is a classic small town melodrama in the tradition of Peyton Place (1957). It embraces all the stock elements of the genre with furious passion – perhaps because (as Stephen Harvey has suggested) it is Minnelli’s personal revenge on the “caste-ridden backwater that spawned him”. (1) Small-town USA has indeed rarely looked so mean, seething and repressive.


Frank Sinatra is brilliantly cast as Dave Hirsh, an amoral, self-loathing writer who finds himself back in hometown Indiana. While he observes the corruption of his family and all around him, he oscillates between two starkly contrasting women: the ‘bimbo with a heart of gold’ Ginny (Shirley MacLaine), and the cool-as-ice schoolteacher Gwen (Martha Hyer). Meanwhile, Frank’s low-life buddy ‘Bama (Dean Martin) plays cards and never, under any circumstance, removes his hat.


The clichés and stereotypes may seem outrageous to a ‘90s viewer, but Minnelli wrings both pathos and meaning from them. Small town life has taken a beating in movies from Kings Row (1942) to Blue Velvet (1986), but only Minnelli could have given Some Came Running its powerfully garish fairground finale, and its insightful, tortured intensity.

Minnelli: The Band Wagon, Madame Bovary, The Pirate, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Meet Me in St Louis

© Adrian Martin December 1992


1. Stephen Harvey, Directed by Vincente Minnelli (New York: MoMA/Harpers & Row, 1989), p. 255.

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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