The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

Directed by Otto Preminger
Cinematography Sam Leavitt
A strung-out junkie deals with a demoralizing drug addiction while his crippled wife and card sharks pull him down.

Only the subject matter of this film is dated.

8/10
Author: David Hoffman from Virginia
28 February 2001

We have moved far beyond this tentative foray into a forbidden area-drug addiction-for the 1950s. As such, the film may seem dated. The Man with the Golden Arm served its function is peeling back a layer of the underside of society, an eye-opener to a Southern country boy in 1955 when I first viewed this film in the theater. After some serious consideration about being too young, I was allowed to go. It was powerful and affecting then and still maintains some sharp, painful moments of the soul stripped naked. As a movie depicting the loneliness at the core of being, it succeeds.

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Filled with angst, Frank Sinatra, in his best role, creates a vulnerability that makes him sympathetic to the viewer. He conveys his helplessness and ineffectualness in a beautifully restrained performance. As a voice of common sense in the dead-end urban jungle, Kim Novak as Molly is quite good. She is compassionate and yet stands on solid ground. The interaction between Sinatra and Novak is really good. Darren McGavin plays a slimy character and does it very well. Eleanor Parker is superbly irritating and painfully insecure in her role of the pathetic Zosch, the crippled wife of Sinatra. Arnold Stang is another unlikely survivor of the street. Regarded as pitiful and despicable, his character Sparrow provides tart comedic moments.

The music is almost the star of this film-brooding, frenetic, moody, poignant. Elmer Bernstein’s score perfectly accentuates the tensions of Frankie Machine’s spiritual weakness and physical need for heroin. Molly’s theme is bittersweet and captures aurally what the film depicts visually. I know of no other soundtrack that effectively complements the tension and defeat within a man as effectively as does this one.

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Do you think those bobbie soxers I’ll really go for me?

10/10
Author: sol from Brooklyn NY USA
28 December 2004

(Mild Spoilers) Frankie Machine had been dealt a bad hand in life. A card dealer at an illegal gambling den in his Chicago neighborhood he was busted when the joint was raided by the cops and given six months in jail.

While behind bars Frankie was treated for his heroin addiction at the prisons hospital and learned how to play the drums as part of his rehabilitation program. Now out of prison and back in his old neighborhood Frankie is trying to put his life back together by getting a union card in the Musicians Union and then a job as a drummer in a band and put his old life behind him but instead it catches up with Frankie in no time at all in “The Man with the Golden Arm”.

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Otto Preminger’s ground-breaking 1955 film about heroin addiction with Frank Sinatra giving the performance of his life as the drug addicted card sharp Frankie Machine, the Man with the Golden Arm. Frankie tries to getaway from the life that he lead but has this monkey or, better yet, gorilla on his back that just won’t let him. Soild performances by the entire supporting cast starting with Frankie’s friend Sparrow, Arnold Stang. Sparrows attempt to get Frankie back on his feet by shoplifting a suit of clothes for him ends up putting him and Frankie in the slammer, and almost back to prison, until his former boss at the gambling den Schwiefka bailed him out.

There’s Frankie’s psychically as well as emotionally crippled wife Zosch, Eleanor Parker, who sees that her hold on Frankie is slipping and is slowly driven to madness murder and suicide. There’s Frankie’s drug dealer Louie, with Darren McGavin in one of his first acting roles, who’s hold on Frankie is only good as long as he stays addicted and Louie goes out of his way to make sure that he does.

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There’s the owner of the gambling joint that Frankie works at as it’s top card dealer Schwiefka, Robert Strauss, who like Louie goes out of his way to get Frankie back to work for him even though if he’s arrested again Frankie’s hopes for a new and better life will go down the drain. And then there’s Frankie’s next-door neighbor and friend Molly, Kim Novak,who goes to almost impossible lengths to get him over his addiction by locking him up in her apartment. It’s there that he goes “Cold Turkey” and almost ends up dying trying to kick the habit in one of the most harrowing sequence ever put on film.

A no holds barred movie with explosive performances by everyone involved makes “The Man with the Golden Arm” one of the great classics of realism in motion pictures coming out of the 1950’s.

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“C’mon, One Hustler To Another.”

8/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
22 October 2005

The Man With a Golden Arm was one of a trio of great films around that same time that dealt with drug addiction. The other two were Monkey On My Back and A Hatful of Rain. But I think of the three this one is the best.

Maybe if Otto Preminger had shot the thing in the real Chicago instead of those obvious studio sets the film might have been better yet. Who knows, maybe Preminger couldn’t get enough money to pay for the location. It’s the only flaw I find in the film.

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Frank Sinatra got a nomination for Best Actor for this film, but lost to Ernest Borgnine in Marty. Sinatra might have won for this one if he hadn’t won for From Here to Eternity in the Supporting Actor category a few years back and that Marty was such an acclaimed film in that year. His scenes going through withdrawal locked up in Kim Novak’s apartment will leave you shaken.

First Bob Strauss who wants him back dealing, especially because a couple of heavyweight gamblers are in town. He uses a few underhanded methods to get Sinatra’s services back. Secondly Darren McGavin is the local dope dealer who wants Sinatra good and hooked as a customer again. And finally Eleanor Parker his clinging wife who’s working a con game to beat all, just to keep him around.

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Frank Sinatra got a nomination for Best Actor for this film, but lost to Ernest Borgnine in Marty. Sinatra might have won for this one if he hadn’t won for From Here to Eternity in the Supporting Actor category a few years back and that Marty was such an acclaimed film in that year. His scenes going through withdrawal locked up in Kim Novak’s apartment will leave you shaken.

Eleanor Parker does not get enough credit for her role. She’s really something as the crazy scheming wife who wants Sinatra tied to her no matter what the cost. If she had not been nominated that same year for Interrupted Melody, she might have been nominated for this. 1955 marked the high point of her career.

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Darren McGavin got his first real notice as the very serpentine drug peddler. His performance is guaranteed to make your flesh crawl.

Elmer Bernstein contributed a great jazz score to accentuate the general dinginess of the bleak Chicago neighborhood the characters live in. Not a place you’d want to bring up your family.

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