The Man with the Golden Arm

The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger, 1955)

Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker

A strung-out junkie deals with a demoralizing drug addiction while his crippled wife and card sharks pull him down.

The great thing about this film is the score by Elmer Bernstein. I had it as a kid as a piece of sheet music, and used to play it as (I thought) a quite impressive piano solo.

At dawn, after the all-night card game, at the end of the second act, Bernstein has a Copland moment, but mostly it's his aggressive, discordant jazz. It's the only film I can think of in which the score is seriously better than the film itself.

I didn't see the film until tonight, 14Nov2018, so I always assumed from the title graphic (which ws on the sheet music) that it was about drugs, but I now find that Sinatra's character's sobriquet ('man with the golden arm') comes from his ability as a dealer (of cards, in an illegal poker game). However, the creators clearly intend the secondary meaning: that Frankie is injecting drugs into said arm.

The DVD I watched I bought in something like a Red Dot store for maybe $5 for a 10-film, 3-DVD boxset, so the quality is, as you can imagine, not much better than runes scratched on stone.

Sinatra was going for an Oscar in his performance as an addict going cold turkey. In fact, he was nominated, but he was up against Ernest Borgnine in Marty - not to mention James Cagney (Love Me or Leave Me) Spencer Tracy (Bad Day at Black Rock), and James Dean! (East of Eden) - all of which would have been more deserving. Borgnine was lucky to beat the late James Dean - tho not a non-actor like Sinatra. Eleanor Parker is OTT. Kim Novak stays cool.

Bernstein has another Copland moment at the end.


Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 14 November, 2018 | Now: 15 November, 2018