Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Elmer Bernstein: SOME CAME RUNNING


SOME CAME RUNNING: Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Film Score Monthly vol. 10, #1, TT: 78.48, (score: 52.40, bonus tracks: 26.01) 43 tracks; (stereo ,  some bonus tracks in mono)

Producer: Lukas Kendall Production Executive: George Feltenstein Performed: MGM Studio Orchestra Conductor: Elmer Bernstein, Orchestrations: Leo Shuken & Jack Hayes

Verdict: One of the Bernstein's Best

by Ross Care

Following on the epic heels of Raintree County is this definitive FSM score reconstruction from another MGM blockbuster based on another big American novel. Some Came Running was author James Jones’ follow-up to his best-selling first novel which was turned in one of the major films of the 1950s, From Here to Eternity.

MGM purchased the rights to Jones’ second novel before it was even published and, though I’ve never been able to wade through the massively intimidating tome, the general consensus seems to be that the film is a vast improvement. As opposed to Eternity (which features a minimal score by Columbia’s George Duning and a couple of Army songs) for Some Came Running MGM hired free-lancer Elmer Bernstein who created one of his seminal scores of the decade for director Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 film version.

The plot revolves around Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra), discharged G.I, aspiring writer, and “volatile non-conformist” (as the original Capitol LP liner notes describe him) who returns from W.W.II to shake-up everyone in his stogy mid-western hometown. Bernstein’s score is bookended by several tumultuous orchestral cues, the “Prelude” (Main Title), and three climactic tracks, “Pursuit, Parts 1 and 2, and “Denouement,” which make up the film’s finale, an almost psychedelic chase through a garishly-lit street carnival. The string-driven music is both ominous and dynamic and is accented by raucously trilling woodwinds, virtuoso brass passages, and Bernstein’s characteristic use of percussive Bartok-ian piano.

“Denouement” brings all the elements (including a nod to Stravinsky) to the boiling point in a furious toccata that climaxes one of the best fusions of music and visuals in ‘50s CinemaScope cinema. These three remarkable cues are edited into one track, “Pursuit,” on Bernstein’s Capitol rerecording of the score. There are cuts in the LP version but hearing all three fused as one relentless sequence is also amazing.


Original Capitol LP jacket (British pressing?)

In a contrasting nature are themes for the two polar-opposite women in Hirsh’s story. Gwen (Martha Hyer), the cool blond schoolteacher who at first expresses interest only in Hirsh’s literary talents, is represented by a lyrically intense melody suggestive of banked fires (“Gwen’s Theme/Metamorphosis”). The childlike Ginny (Shirley MacLaine), the dim but good-hearted floozy Dave unwittingly brings with him from Chicago, is portrayed by a naively wistful jazz theme (“Fifty Dollars”).

The Gwen/Ginny themes are a musical objective/correlative of the virgin/whore theme beloved of macho writers such as Jones (and so many others), but Bernstein (and Minnelli/MacLaine) do a spin on this cliché by transforming the character of the self-sacrificing Ginny and her jazz into some of the most poignant moments and music in the film (“Ginny,” “The Noblest Act’). It’s the “whore with heart of gold,” of course, but Bernstein’s music, including poignant orchestral transformations of Ginny’s jazz theme, makes it real and touching. Her theme also returns in an ominous guise in “Denouement,” and in an elegiac statement in the penultimate “Shock;” the two feminine themes fuse in the final “Catharsis.”

Some Came Running deals frankly with issues of sex, class, and morality in small town America, and is also a brilliant example of the “new Hollywood” score of the declining studio era. Along with the “big” tracks Bernstein’s innovative orchestral underscoring sometimes invokes an intimate “less is more” sound, as in the passage of intense chamber strings midway through “Dave’s Double Life” and the solo violin in one of Gwen’s variations. Dave’s own music is a wired theme no doubt inspired by Alex North’s jazz combo sound for Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Special note: the varied jazz sequences, many submerged as background source music in the film, are here revealed to be among Bernstein’s coolest!

With this wealth of melodic material one wonders why MGM felt the need to insert the Van Heusen/Cahn song, “To Love and Be Loved,” into the film, other than the fact that the writers were often associated with Sinatra. It’s used a bit in the underscore but does not really intrude. Fellow Rat Packer/Capitol-crooner-turned-dramatic star, Dean Martin, also co-stars.


Bonus cues include a deleted prologue with a lost orchestral cue, “Crocked,” and an assortment of source vocals, including one in which a blotto Ginny/MacLaine drunkenly sings along.

Eight cues of manic Bernstein carnival music, one based on the ironically patriotic “View from Parkman” cue, are also included, providing (if more is needed) additional proof of the composer’s incredible range and versatility in this, one of his most vivid and archetypal scores.

No comments: