Martha Hyer in SOME CAME RUNNING (1958) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Martha Hyer's nomination for Some Came Running stands as one of those moments -- the kind where even the most inveterate Oscar-philiac must ask: "What Was Oscar Smoking?"
...Martha Hyer in Some Came Running (1958).
approximately 28 minutes and 13 seconds
10 scenes
roughly 20% of film's total running time
(data courtesy of Raybee)

Some Came Running exemplifies the bloated banality of bad 1950s weepies. Huge cardboard cast, big overly goofy sets, unrelenting plotting/plodding adapted from a suspiciously pedigreed original -- it's Auntie Mame without humor, irony, style or a compelling central performance.

And while it may not be entirely her fault -- nearly all of Hyer's scenes are opposite Frank Sinatra -- but, dang, if Martha Hyer's performance ain't just a big puddle of boring in the middle of this midwestern, midcentury morassy morality tale. Hyer's subsequent rep as a swinging chick notwithstanding, here Hyer's the prudish, proper paragon ostensibly star-crossed with Sinatra's hard drinking, hard living character. Perhaps the up-and-coming pinup was cast opposite the big star to prove her range as an actress? Any other straws for Lulu to grasp?

As so often happens, most of Hyer's best acting can be seen in her hair. (Hey, the costume designer was nominated.) Basically, Hyer's got a Mrs. C coif -- the twoinky bangs updone to look like "Brown 'n' Serve" buns, the rest swept into some hive of hairspray and bobby pins at the back. At the moment of her character's greatest emotional release, Sinatra yanks Hyer's hair free -- at once signalling her emotional confinement and erotic liberation when in Sinatra's hands. As Hyer shakes her woman-thou-art-loosed hairdo, she becomes both temptress and vaguely unkempt poodle. The moment almost works.

But what's startling about Hyer's nomination is that she's outacted by nearly every other female performance in the flick. From Leora Dana's hypocritical shrew of a sister-in-law, to Carmen Phillips' alternately witty & catatonic bad girl, or Connie Gilchrist's sainted tippling mother, or even Mrs. C herself (Marion Ross in a kicky little cameo as Dean Martin's spunky, bewimpled nurse) -- almost every actress crossing the screen contributes something more interesting or more compelling than Martha Hyer in the role of Gwen "I'm a school teacher, not a schoolgirl" French.

Indeed, the Best Supporting Actress performance that should have been nominated is Shirley Maclaine's in the role of Ginny, the chirpy, plaintive and broken-heart-of-gold hoochie. (Perhaps because of Maclaine's star billing, the performance was nominated, though in the "Best Actress" category -- this despite the fact that Maclaine has roughly half the actual screen time as Hyer. Oscar logic. Go figure. Nonetheless, Maclaine's performance in this flick becomes the actress' own Nights in Cabiria prelude to her work, a decade later, in the same/different part in Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity.) Here, Maclaine's performance elevates Hyer's too. In what is arguably the most interesting scene in the film, Maclaine's Ginny seeks out Hyer's Gwen to ask if Gwen loves Sinatra/Dave, cuz if she doesn't Ginny'll be happy to take him. Maclaine's electric combination of naivete and worldweariness actually elicits real response from Hyer, whose ice-queen facade finally crumbles to give a glaring glimpse of the high-minded Gwen's fatal hypocrisy. Maclaine's able to make Hyer's character almost compelling. It's a good scene, testament both to Hyer's potential and the sheer force of Maclaine's always odd clarity. But nomination worthy?

So did Hyer snag this nomination as a result of heroic work by her publicist? Her paramour? Her hair? StinkyLulu's not sure. Yet Martha Hyer's nomination stands as testament to the curious ways that Best Supporting Actress handles its women, especially the damsels. Oscar's both a blessing and a curse, especially for its usually hollow promises of great work to come. Hyer's "serious actress" stint seems almost stunted after this nomination. Her fault? Hard to say. She's hardly alone in this fate. But she's also hardly the reason to see Some Came Running.


Nick Davis said...

Whooo, chile! We'll dish in two weeks when we do our meeting-of-the-minds about 1958, but Hyer is currently my second favorite of the four. (No hints who's winning, but it's Peggy Cass I've got left.)

There's no question it's my favorite of the films (save, again, Mame).

StinkyLulu said...

OOH -- good.
I can't wait to hear what you love about this flick. The folks who love it really seem to groove on it. I just don't get it.

Perhaps we should call our confab 2 Sundays hence "Supporting Actress Smackdown"...

I Suck at My Job said...

Isn't there a bar in NYC called Stinky Lulu's?

AAnonymoo said...

On St.Mark's there's a drag dive called "Stingy Lulu's"...

Cliff said...

Here's a little info on the lovely Ms. Hyer's B movie career: