‘The Man with the Golden Arm‘ is a 1955 black and white film directed by Otto Preminger. It faced notable controversy when it was released for its portrayal of drug addiction.
Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) arrives in his hometown of Chicago after returning from a prison stint related to drug charges. Clean now, he meets his old acquaintances including his friend Sparrow (Arnold Stang), his old cardshark boss Schwiefka (Robert Strauss), and his former drug dealer Louie (Darren McGavin). The latter two try to intimidate him into becoming a card dealer for an illegal game and get back on drugs, but Frankie refuses. He goes home to his paralyzed wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker), who was injured in an accident that Frankie caused while high, using this as a way to hold sway over him. Despite Zosh wanting him to return to dealing, he wants to try and become a professional drummer. During this time, he runs into his old girlfriend Molly (Kim Novak) who encourages his clean lifestyle. However, after he gets accused of committing a crime and is forced to work for Schwiefka, who pays his bail. This causes him to fall back into drugs and he soon sees his new life become unraveled before his eyes.
First of all, the performances were spectacular. Sinatra hits it home with his portrayal of a recovering drug addict. He does not exaggerate the drug behavior, making it seem cartoonish. Likewise, he does downplay it, making it seem bland. He delivers on every level. It is hard to believe that the role almost went to Marlon Brando, who was interested in playing the part. While talented, his approach to acting is more sophisticated than Sinatra’s. Frank gave the protagonist an everyman feel that only he could deliver it.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone pulls out a terrific performance. Everyone delivered on every level and especially for Parker. If you have not seen the film, I highly recommend it on the twist on her character alone.
This goes to the talent and courage of Otto Preminger. At the time, drugs were incredibly taboo and the film’s content caused an uproar with some gatekeepers in Hollywood. He powered through and as such, gave us a good examination of the human condition. In the end, the film’s subject could be any of us. We have faults, things we’re ashamed of, friends holding us up, loved ones pulling us down, and others who want to take advantage of our good nature. These themes were well-illustrated in the plot and I applaud Preminger for pushing it forward.
Bottom line, The Man with the Golden Arm is a film that explores human weakness, those who would exploit it, and those who try to help. It is one that should get more recognition for Frank Sinatra’s acting alone.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Drug abuse, Violence
FAVORITE QUOTE: Guy teaches me drumming down there, says I’m a natural, arms made of pure gold.
Check out the trailer below:
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