The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
When Otto Preminger was willing to release his drug-addiction drama Man With the Golden Arm without the sanction of a Production Code seal, it proved to be yet another nail in the coffin of that censorial dinosaur. Based on the novel by Nelson Algren, the film stars Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine, expert card dealer (hence the title). Recently released from prison, Frankie is determined to set his life in order -- and that means divesting himself of his drug habit. He dreams of becoming a jazz drummer, but his greedy wife Eleanor Parker wants him to continue his lucrative gambling activities. Since Parker is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a car accident caused by Frankie, he's in no position to refuse. Only the audience knows that Parker is not crippled, but is faking her invalid status to keep Frankie under her thumb. Gambling boss Robert Strauss wants Frankie to deal at a high-stakes poker game; terrified that he's lost his touch, Frankie asks dope pusher Darren McGavin to supply him with narcotics. When McGavin discovers that Parker is not an invalid, she kills him, and Frankie (who is elsewhere at the time) is accused of the murder. He is willing to go to the cops, but he doesn't want to show up with drugs in his system. So with the help of sympathetic B-girl Kim Novak, Sinatra locks himself up and goes "cold turkey"-a still-harrowing sequence, despite the glut of "doper" films that followed in the wake of this picture. After Parker herself is killed in a suicidal fall, the path is cleared for Frankie to pursue a clean new life with Novak. … More
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Arnold Stang: 1918-2009
– Hollywood Reporter
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Critic Reviews for The Man with the Golden Arm
The film is a pretty good picture show, as we used to say, but anyone who has read Nelson Algren's wonderfully poetic novel is likely to make invidious comparisons and be otherwise distracted.
A gripping, fascinating film, expertly produced and directed and performed with marked conviction by Frank Sinatra as the drug slave.
Frank Sinatra, as the drug-addicted poker dealer, plays a reasonably naturalistic character, but he's surrounded by a collection of bizarre archetypes.
There are some great scenes, though, notably Sinatra's audition for a make-or-break drumming job, and the later scene where he suffers cold turkey in Novak's apartment.
In short, for all the delicacy of the subject and for all the pathological shivers in a couple of scenes, there is nothing very surprising or exciting about The Man With the Golden Arm.
The film's reputation hasn't endured like some other mid-century depictions of addiction, like The Lost Weekend. But it's a terrific look at descent and despair, the sort of movie that can end on a sour note but still seem hopeful.
As one Hollywood's first movies about drug addiction, Otto Preminger's drama starring Frank Sinatra, may be more significant historically than artistically.
Director Otto Preminger emphasizes the lurid whenever he can ... so that the movie plays like a blurry, bleary night-on-its-way-to-morning.
Sinatra, by contrast, is superb, especially in a harrowing withdrawal scene. It's his movie...all the way.
More Damon Runyan than Irvine Welsh, but as entertaining as it is important.
Some of the scenes of cold turkey are still very effective, and Sinatra's performance is flawless.
A brave and well-constructed piece of old-time movie-making, and the thing more than holds up today.
A terrific exposition of the perils of drug addiction
Proves that drug stories aren't exclusively the territory of hip, nihilistic '90s film-school wunderkinder.
Audience Reviews for The Man with the Golden Arm
the film that changed the production code; it's hard to imagine the impact this must have had on movie audiences in 1955. the novel's super bleak ending was changed to be somewhat moralistic but hipster cool, the driving jazz score, plus sinatra's knock out performance make up for that imo. even novak is great and she's never really impressed meMore
An American Classic. Sure, it's a little dated in the way it depicts drug addiction, especially with Heroin being the drug but it has all that greatness that 50s film has. It also took risks, the subject matter being more than a little taboo at the time. Frank Sinatra was very well cast and puts in a great performance, he is let down ever so slightly by an overacting supporting cast but it's all forgivable - especially as that cast includes the beautiful Kim Novak and personal favourite of mine, Arnold Stang.More
Decent but not great movie about a ex-junkie and how he got sucked back into his habit.
I'm not a Sinatra fan, but he did OK as heroin addict Frankie Machine. The title refers to Johnny's job, which is a card dealer for illegal card games. Eleanor Powell plays Johnny's wife, who is in a wheelchair because of an accident that was Johnny's fault. Kim Novak plays Johnny's mistress with her usual stiff as a board portrayal (I'm not a Novak fan either) . I'm so used to Eleanor Powell playing strong women, that seeing her playing a weakling (although not as weak as she first appears...heheh) was interesting. Her performance reminded me a great deal of Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, which wouldn't be for another seven years. Could Joan have based her protrayal on Powell's?
My main complaint about this film is that it seems to be two films edited together. We have the carddealer/heroin addict story, and then we have the love triangle between Johnny, his crippled wife and Molly. They only slightly seem to be connected.
I can't say that this film made me any more of a fan of either Sinatra or Novak, but I don't consider it a waste of time either.
This is basically an overwrought melodramatic depiction of hard drug abuse (one of the first in cinema, I believe). It's a little tame by today's standards, but it features really good performances and an excellent score by Elmer Bernstein. I give it a B-.More
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