Some Came Running: Minnelli Casting of Shirley MacLaine

Minnelli spent the months of June and July 0f 1958 casting the low-lifes and provincials of James Jones’s novel, and preparing for a midsummer location shooting.

As lead Frank Sinatras companion, gambler Bama Dillert, Minnelli cast Dean Martin, who had just made an impressive dramatic debut, in The Young Lions, opposite Brando, after the split with Jerry Lewis. Minnelli thought that Martins languid irony and smooth charm were major assets for his role.

However, casting Shirley MacLaine as the wayward female lead, Ginny, a dimwitted slut with a heart of gold, happened in serendipitous way. MacLaine, under contract to Hal Wallis, had impressed in her debut, in Hitchcocks noir comedy, The Trouble With Harry, but then she played a Hindu princess in Around the World in 80 Days, which Minnelli disliked, on loan out to Mike Todd.

Despite her unconventional looks, Minnelli thought that MacLaine’s youth and eccentricity could lend poignancy to Ginny, and he knew that she was trying to get out of her contract with Hal Wallis, who cast her in preposterous roles.

Sinatra first spotted MacLaine on TV on the Dinah Shore Show. Watching television together one night, Sinatra suddenly said, “Look, Vincente, here’s our Ginny.” Wearing a tight black leotard, MacLaine belted out a poor song. Sinatra felt that “the cuteness, the strength, the humor, everything we wanted in Ginny, was wrapped up in that one package.” Ginny was the kind of role MacLaine had been waiting for, a tragic, morally deficient heroine, who latches on to Sinatras would-be-novelist.

“Some Came Running” became a turning point in MacLaines career. Other than Hitchcock (The Trouble With Harry), Minnelli was the most distinguished director she had worked with. An expert on dcor, color and costume, Minnelli knew exactly how Shirley should look for the role; it was crucial that she be made-up to look vulgar.

On the Saturday before shooting began, MacLaine’s make-up test arrived from Hollywood, and Minnelli thought it was dreadful.

Few directors, gay or straight, would apply make-up to their leading ladies themselves; even George Cukor never did that. But unabashedly and unself-consciously, Minnelli kneeled down and put rouge where shadows should be. Her childish face was made up to look like a cheap woman. Minnelli decided to do the make-up himself on Sunday.

Minnelli then requested color shots of MacLaine standing in a motel’s driveway, and arranged for them to get quickly developed. While looking vulgar as needed, MacLaines pretty face was not completely tranished. For Minnelli, Ginny represented the pathos and failure of sex, rather than the triumph that would be implied if a sex bomb had been cast in the role. He totally embraced Sinatras idea to change the story’s violent ending and make Ginny, rather than his character, the accidental victim of the assassin.

Minnelli held that the audience had to be knocked out by the characters vulgarity. To that extent, he decided to use the inside of a jukebox as inspiration for the settings, garishly lit in primary colors. Minnelli always thought that the films French title, Comme un torrent (Like a Storm) captured better its essence than the vague American title.

Sinatras and Martins complaints nothwistanding, Minnellis colleagues agreed that his mise-en-scene in this picture was exuberant. The emphasis on the conflicted passions and ambivalent feelings of the middle-class characters makes Some Came Running one of Minnellis most effective and popular melodramas.

In the picture, class differences and familial feelings drive the narrative forward. Minnelli exploits every stereotype about the American middle class life. Tussling with the suffocating Midwestern life of his elder brother, Frank (Arthur Kennedy), Dave is so disgusted that his cynicism dominates the tone of the entire film. Daves search for a real home–his desire for familial identity–reveals that home might be a myth rather than reality.

A far cry from Father of the Bride, Some Came Running offers a critical anatomy of the new moral disorder of American middle class. The central theme of individual identity shapes the films conflicts, most of which derive from Daves hatred of his brothers duplicitous bourgeois mores. The film is also a critique of misogyny, exposing masculine imperatives that result in the tragic, sacrificial death of Ginny, the movies one innocent woman.