The Man With The Golden Arm

The Man With The Golden Arm

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This was the movie that broke the mould. Drug addiction was a taboo subject until Otto Preminger made the leap in 1955 with an adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel that the US board of film censors refused to categorise.

By modern standards, it looks stagy, with its studio set and stereotypical locations - the bar, Zosch's apartment, the street. Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer's script is in the hard-boiled tradition, with a comic sidekick (Arnold Stang), a smarmy villain (Darren McGavin) and an hysterical wife (Eleanor Parker). The jazz score by Elmer Bernstein is exceptional and innovative.

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Frank Sinatra's performance is a sharp reminder to those who missed From Here To Eternity that there is more to Ole Blue Eyes than Songs For Swinging Lovers and The Rat Pack. He plays Frankie Machine, a professional poker dealer, who comes out of chokey after a spell for the possession of heroin, off the habit and eager to make a new life as a jazz drummer.

He returns to the old neighbourhood in Chicago, where his neurotic invalid wife Zosch awaits. There is also devoted pal Sparrow, the cynical charm of Louie, the drug pusher, and Molly (Kim Novac), the girl downstairs, who loves him but doesn't want to ruin his marriage.

What with Zosch's nagging demands and Louie's insidious presence, Frankie gives in to the temptation and goes back on drugs. His new career is over before it starts. He steals from Zosch, hides out at Molly's, hits rock bottom and goes cold turkey to get the monkey off his back.

Sinatra is committed to this role and succeeds in exploiting Frankie's vulnerability, without resorting to sentimental tricks, or audience grabbing histrionics. His cold turkey scenes are genuinely upsetting and the relationship with Novak, who refutes her reputation as a dumb blonde with a sensitive, assured performance, is beautifully handled. By comparison, Parker appears melodramatic and dangerously over the top.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2003
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Groundbreaking movie about a drug-addled poker player.
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Director: Otto Preminger

Writer: Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer, based on the novel by Nelson Algren

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Darren McGavin, Arnold Stang, Robert Strauss, John Conte, Doro Merande, Emile Meyer

Year: 1955

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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