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USA 1955
Directed by
Otto Preminger
119 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Man With The Golden Arm

Frank Sinatra, plays Frankie Machine, a professional card dealer for an illegal gambling ring, who has just kicked his heroin habit and returns to his Chicago tenement where his wheelchair-bound wife (Eleanor Parker), crippled in a car accident for which she makes him feel responsible, awaits him. Frankie has vowed to stay off drugs and become a jazz drummer. He also meets Molly (Kim Novak) a former squeeze. The road to hell, however, is as they say, paved with good intentions and thwarted in his intention to be be a musician Frankie slowly slips into his old ways. Fortunately Molly is on hand to save him.

Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Nelson Algren's controversial best-seller was daring for its time, defying the Hays Code and becoming the first major Hollywood film to deal with  heroin addiction (the Code was changed to the following year to allow subjects such as drug addiction and prostitution to be dealt with). The film was nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Actor for Sinatra, Best Score for Elmer Bernstein and Best Art and Set Direction for Joseph Wright and Darrell Silvera but did not win any.

Preminger was no doubt familiar with Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) with which one cannot help but compare this for its seedy milieu, evidently created in the studio and well shot in black and white by Sam Leavitt, and somewhat mannered dialogue (written by Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer and Ben Hecht). Although Novak’s Molly is an improbable character, Sinatra is excellent as the strung-out junkie in what must have been a career-challenging role and Eleanor Parker is effective as the harpy who effectively drags Frankie down for her own selfish motives. Bernstein provides a fine jazz score whilst Saul Bass's stylish titles are immediately recognizable. At times the film feels too melodramatic and the somewhat anodyjne ending (its rehabilitation of Frankie was rejected by Algren) is rather rushed but overall and in the context of its time, this is a solid effort. 




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