Tag Archives: vincente minnelli

XL Popcorn – Some Came Running

So, over Christmas 2020 the COVID-19 entered my household. These posts are those that had to be written up later because being at the computer for more than 15 minutes made me feel beyond tired. I can cook, but I can’t type – it’s very strange. Still, these posts were done well after the fact so apologies in advance.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 891/1009Title: Some Came Running
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1958
Country: USA

You know that person that lights up the screen no matter what film they are in? That’s Shirley MacLaine. That person who, in many films, is just not used enough? That’s Shirley MacLaine. The person that can break your heart at a moment’s notice? Right, that’s Shirley MacLaine – the actress who is the beating heart of Some Came Running and I still feel teary about when writing this post some time after seeing the film.

Some Came Running, as a film, has some issues. Mostly those with misogyny. This is something that was likely in the source material which, at 1200+ pages long, was pared down significantly (and the ending changed for the better) so that it could be brought to the big screen. This means that, with the exception of MacClaine’s character, a lot of the women are simply characterised and the actresses try their best to fill roles that are mostly stereotypes of female roles in a film.

Then there is Shirley MacClaine, in a supporting role to Frank Sinatra as a prodigal son who returns to an icy welcome from a family who shipped him off to a boarding house at the age of 12. He has drinking problems and, wouldn’t you know, is also an incredibly gifted and misunderstood writer – it’s a loose autobiography if you couldn’t get that from the character description.

Makes it all the important that you have her there to be the emotional centre of the film… even if that probably wasn’t the point of her role in the first place. Still though, it got her the first of many Oscar nominations – so I know I am not the only person who fell in love with her completely. The speech her character gives about not being able to understand Sinatra or the stories he writes, but still is in love with him – my God your heart breaks for her.

It’s also worth noting just how well directed parts of this are. There is a long at a fairground for the finale, which brought to mind a similar scene from Strangers on a Trainwhich is a beautiful mix of colour, claustrophobia and tension – all whilst in a place that should be incredibly upbeat. This is a film worth seeing despite the flaws.

XL Popcorn – The Bad and the Beautiful

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 713/1007Title: The Bad and the Beautiful
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1952
Country: USA

The flight time between London and Athens is a bit over three and a half hours. When flying with a budget airline like easyJet, aside fro, the delays and the legroom shortage, I am usually fine for 1-2 hours, but this flight gave me pause to do something that I should have done a long time ago. You see, I’ve had my iPad 2 for 5-6 years (it’s where the initial list for this blog was written on) and never even thought about taking it with my on a plane to watch a movie, and so here we are with a film that I have been wanting to watch for a good long time.

Directed by Vincente Minelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is one of those classic golden age Hollywood films about the sacrifices people make in order to make it big. It’s presented in the form of three flashbacks, as three people who found success after being wronged by a once successful movie mogul tell their stories as to why they would never work with him ever again. These three are united by their distaste for movie mogul Jonathan Shields (played by an excellent Kirk Douglas), all for incredibly good reasons.

The film itself is set up as a short anthology series with Douglas’ Shields and the common thread. We get to see Shields at his rise, his heights and at his decline and how these different situations have led to his using of the director, the star and the writer. It’s not like he uses and disposes of them once he’s done, in all three situations it is the wronged people’s decision to walk away because he crossed the line that he shouldn’t have crossed.

I may be biased because films about old Hollywood really are my bread and butter, but I thought this film was excellent. The way that we watch Shields’s career path and the different lengths he goes to in order to get what he wants helps to keep the film interesting. However, and I am going to give him this, he had no inclination of sending the writer’s wife (a wonderfully flighty Gloria Grahame) to her death – but the way he concealed his, indirect, involvement did speak to his character.

It’s excellent performances from the all the principle cast and some classically beautiful Hollywood melodrama direction that really made The Bad and the Beautiful a winner for me. Sure films about people gathered in a room recounting how someone has wronged them is hardly groundbreaking, but it helps when it’s very well executed. A perfect plane movie.

Ebert’s Greats: The Band Wagon

 List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 185/409Title: The Band Wagon
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Year: 1953
Country: USA

I have been burnt by Vincente Minnelli films three times before. The first time (Meet Me in St. Louis) left me thoroughly bored and frustrated with the exception of Judy Garland’s rendition of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. That bit alone saved me from turning off the rest of the movie. Then there was An American In Paris which caused me to fall asleep because, as it turns out, I don’t get Gene Kelly. Finally, I tried out Gigi and I began to despair over the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The Band Wagon is the only Vincente Minnelli film that Ebert included on his list of Great Movies which speaks to how much better it is than that other three that I saw previously. It also stars Fred Astaire, who won me over a year ago when I saw him in Swing Time with Ginger Rogers.

The thing is that, unlike the other Minnelli films I have seen, I could really get my teeth into the story of a faded star (Astaire) taking on a new role in a musical destined for failure due to the pretensions of the director (played by a fantastically over-the-top Jack Buchanan who was, unbelievably, in his sixties). Then again, how a fun musical could be made about Faust is beyond me (but also the point of the film).

In terms of musical numbers the key, as with all things Astaire, is the dancing. I mean, there was never really someone quite like him and his natural timing and it shows most of all in two numbers. Firstly, there is ‘Shine On Your Shoes’ where he is dancing around an arcade with all the machines with an incredible joie de vivre considering it’s a about being happy with shiny shoes. Then there is ‘That’s Entertainment’ which, again, is a lot of fun with great lyrics.

In all this film there is someone whose appearances cause you to gravitate your attention towards them and that’s Nanette Fabray, who plays a supporting role as a playwright of the doomed play. She has an easy chemistry with pretty much everyone she appears with and also has important roles in some of the better musical numbers (‘Louisiana Hayride’ and ‘I Love Louisa’) as well as the most disturbing (‘Triplets’).

The film does run out of a bit of steam towards the end when they reach the ‘Girl Hunt Ballet’ but, on the whole, the film is a joyful romp that has restored some of my recently broken faith in film musicals.