Some Came Running: Minnelli Vs. the Rat Pack

In the spring of 1958, Minnelli returned to the U.S. from the French shoot of The Reluctant Debutante, and immediately plunged into his next ambitious project. MGM had bought the rights to James Jones novel even before the book got published.

Jones striking literary debut, From Here to Eternity, was a best seller that became a successful, Oscar- winning film, directed by Fred Zinnemann. Some Came Running was touted as a thinking man’s Peyton Place, the sleazy melodrama that had become a popular and better picture than Grace Metalius novel was, though many reviewers derided the book for being self-indulgent.

Nonetheless, convinced that there was a vivid melodrama in the book, Sol C. Siegel, who took over Schary’s job at MGM, remained excited, and in fact decided to supervise the production himself. John Patrick, who scripted High Society and Cukors Les Girls, and Arthur Sheekman, were asked to turn the 1200-page novel into a 120-page script, a manageable if arduous challenge.

Minnelli found Jones’s hero Dave, a conflicted a writer, utterly compelling. Dave fits perfectly into Minnellis gallery of brutish-sensitive and tormented male artists. For this role, Minnelli wanted Frank Sinatra, who rose quickly after winning a Supporting Oscar for From Here to Eternity, which established him as a dramatic actor. Two years later, in Premingers 1955 Man With the Golden Arm, as a drug-addiction drama, Sinatra distinguished himself as a self-destructive misfit, for which he received a Best Actor nomination.

Minnelli had wanted to direct Sinatra in a musical, ever since he saw him in Anchors Aweigh Then, on the set of Till the Clouds Roll By, in which Sinatra had a cameo, Minnelli barely saw him. Whenever they ran into each other at parties, they would reiterate their wish to work together, but they couldnt find a project that would interest them both. Now under contract to MGM, Sinatra was excited that his first film for the studio would be Some Came Running to be helmed by Minnelli.

MGM put pressure on Minnelli to move quickly, which resulted in a tight schedule of six months, from script phase to screen release. From the beginning, the film was considered to be Oscar stuff material, and Minneli knew that the film would need to premiere in December to qualify for Academy Awards considerations.

Minnelli spent the months of June and July casting the low-lifes and provincials of Jones’s novel, and preparing for a midsummer location shooting. As Sinatras companion, gambler Bama Dillert, Minnelli chose 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.

Many of Sinatra’s and Martins friends from Hollywood and Vegas dropped in for a visit for card games and drinks, and some of them brought hookers from Chicago with them. The poker parties sometimes went on until dawn. To Minnellis consternation, Dean and Frank would report to the set hung-over and bleary-eyed, barely remembering their lines. The experience brought bad memories from the set of The Pirate, the last time Minnelli had encountered unprofessional behavior, and from no other than Judy.

Both Sinatra and Martin found Minnelli to be too prim and proper for their taste. The rat-pack members were annoyed by the artsy-fartsy, as Martin nicknamed him, evident in the long time it took Minnelli to set up every single shot. They resented spending hours on a single shot just because Minnelli wanted a Ferris wheel to be seen in the background, or a vase to be fillwed with the right kind of flowers.

On a number of occasions, Sinatra fumed and threatened to walk out. Filmmaking was boring enough without having to sit around for hours to do numerous takes of what amounted to just one brief scene, and not always an important one. Sinatra walked out on the set, and Minnelli had to shoot around him.

Deeply upset, Sinatra talked Martin into walking out on the film altogether. Martin decided to join him because he knew that there was no picture without Sinatra. They flew to Los Angeles, where producer Sol Siegel tried to talk them into resuming their work. Sinatra complained about Minnellis interminable takes and waste of valuable time on minutae. Siegel sensed that Sinatra was just bored and tired of hanging around in a provincial town like Madison, with nothing exciting to do at night. Reluctantly, Siegel approved a one-weeks vacation for his capricious but indispensable stars, who were then at the height of their popularity as Rat Packers.

Sinatra, who had a brief affair with Judy during her marriage to Minnelli, now could understand much better her complaints against her passive-aggressive husband. When the week was up, Sinatra and Martin returned to Indiana to finish the picture, not exactly promptly, but at least it was done.

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.