A deep, dark, classic noir about the simple evils of drug addiction, Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm was a controversial film in its day, and still stands as the first big-budget cautionary tale about the horror of drug abuse. Featuring a stellar jazz score by Elmer Bernstein and sporting those famous opening titles by Saul Bass, The Man with the Golden Arm is a grade-A old-school classic. It’s dated a bit over the years, sure, but that doesn’t take away from Preminger’s craftsmanship in any discernible way.
Frank Sinatra plays Frankie Machine, a former junkie returned to his old neighborhood after a difficult stint in a rehab hospital. Frankie finds that all the old players are still around: Sparrow the barfly, Schwiefka the gambler, Molly the hustler, Louie the dealer, and Zosch, the wife in the wheelchair.
This powerful drama, which broached the subject of drug addiction in a stark and realistic manner, may be mild by today’s standards, but was a groundbreaking and edgy film in its day. The legendary Frank Sinatra plays addict, Frankie Machine, with Eleanor Parker playing his disabled wife. Based on the novel by Nelson Algren. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM received three Academy Award Nominations, including Best Actor for Frank Sinatra.
All Frankie wants is a shot at landing a solid gig as a drummer, but it doesn’t take long before he’s manipulated into the same old routine. Frankie, you see, is a master poker dealer, and the greasy Schwiefka wants Frankie dealing for his game. When Frankie refuses, it kick-starts a series of events that lead to, you guessed it, another trip to Junkiesville. And it isn’t exactly pretty.
Those experienced with “drug horror” cinema like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting may find much of The Man with the Golden Arm hopelessly outdated and more than a little quaint. But this was a film produced back in the mid-1950s, when the Hays Code prevented subject matter like this from appearing in mainstream moviehouses. Preminger’s film was one of the first to reshape those guidelines, and Golden Arm went on to become a rousing success, earning a solid cache at the box office and yielding a trio of Oscar nominations (for Art Direction, Score, and Mr. Sinatra’s memorable performance).
Bolstered by an excellent supporting cast an adapted screenplay that keeps the dramatic tension rising throughout, The Man with the Golden Arm might not be as harrowing as it once was, but as a brave and well-constructed piece of old-time movie-making, the thing more than holds up today.
Director: Otto Preminger
Writer: Nelson Algren
Production Company: Otto Preminger Films
Date Release: 1955
Audio & Video: Mono – Black & White
Cast: Frank Sinatra/Frankie Machine – Eleanor Parker/Zosch Machine – Kim Novak/Molly
Additional details in: IMDB
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Filed Under: Drama