MacLaine and de Havilland still shine in a pair of early performances now available on Blu-ray.
The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
Current screen heroines have come a long way since the days of being pretty arm candy hanging on a handsome leading man’s side. The current crop of screen roles for women have never been more complex and layered as they bring to the screen the many different sides of the female experience. It’s true that there’s still work to be done and there are still plenty examples of female representation crying to be seen on the big screen. Still, there’s no denying that the movies have come a long way in this area.
Looking back, it’s astounding how long it’s taken for women to be seen and heard in roles other than lovesick girlfriends or devoted wives. Even now, it’s astounding seeing how many female characters existed for no other reason than to establish the male lead’s sexuality. Regardless of this fact, there have always been examples that managed to break the mold and sneak bits of feminism into their characters while also revealing hidden depths in otherwise throwaway roles. In this edition of The Archivist, we look at two such examples with 1940’s Santa Fe Trail and 1958’s Some Came Running.
Santa Fe Trail
Inspired by the true events Santa Fe Trail, tells the story Jeb Stuart (Erroll Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Regan), graduates of West Point who head to Kansas in an effort to stop the notorious abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey) in the days leading up to the Civil War. Along, the way, Jeb and George both meet Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), the strong-willed daughter of a railroad builder with whom the two men soon find themselves competing for.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Santa Fe Trail is the furthest any movie can be when it comes to historical accuracy, even by the standards of the day. Despite whatever liberties were taken with the film (and there are many), the end result at the very least makes for an interesting discussion on classic Hollywood’s questionable relationship with historical filmmaking. All of that aside, the reason to see Santa Fe Trail remains de Havilland in another one of her winning screen reunions with Flynn. Kit is the love interest, no question. But the actress succeeds in bringing out her character’s more unconventional aspects, specifically the fact that she’s the one overseeing the construction of her father’s railroad. In fact, the second time Jeb encounters Kit, it isn’t through any kind of meet-cute situation, but in the midst of her bossing her father’s men around showing her as a woman thriving in a man’s world. Eventually, Santa Fe Trail leads Kit down the familiar path of “which man will get the girl.” When it does however, it admirably lets both Jeb and George stand by until Kit herself decides who she wants to spend her life with.
Some Came Running
Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of the celebrated novel of the same name stars Frank Sinatra as Dave, a former soldier and writer who is returning home to post-war small town America where he faces family secrets and his own self-destructive demons. Eventually, Dave encounters two figures who will have life-changing effects on his future: the notorious gambler Bama (Dean Martin) and the fast, freewheeling Ginny (Shirley MacLaine), who finds herself in love with him despite Bama’s objections.
One of the greatest American dramas of the late 50s, Some Came Running holds up as one of Minnelli’s finest. The film proudly wears its melodrama twists and turns on it sleeves, reveling in the various entanglements it places its characters in. Underneath that however are very real kinds of conflicts, (family, loyalty and class) which flowed throughout films of the decade. Everyone is outstanding here, especially Sinatra who is more than willing to share the spotlight with his fellow actors rather than treating the whole affair like a star vehicle. But it’s MacLaine who people rightfully remember most. Her Oscar-nominated take on Ginny is simply brilliant. Although she’s seen as little more than a grown up child, a floozy with no real thoughts or ambitions, it becomes harder to dismiss her as the movie goes on. It’s in Some Came Running’s final act where we see the real Ginny come to life, shedding the image of the bubblehead and revealing herself as a soulful woman with her own desires and a capacity to connect with another human being in a way society might not think her capable of. To this day, Ginny remains one of the screens most underrated film heroines.
Santa Fe Trail and Some Came Running are now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive.