When it was released in 1955 Preminger’s "The Man with the Golden Arm" went out without a seal from the MPAA. They felt it was inappropriate to release a film that had addiction as it’s main plot point. Then as now, the MPAA proved to be shortsighted, and reactionary.The movie stars Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine (Go ahead and laugh.) a recently released heroin addict just out of a jail/treatment program. He arrives home to his old Chicago neighborhood clean and sober and determined to make a fresh start as a jazz drummer. The trouble is, while he was away changing his life, his world stayed just the same.
The doctor who treated Frankie made it clear that part of his recovery was going to hinge on changing his situation. He needs to make a change, needs to get to a place were he can work on his drums. Chief among the things that he can’t change, his wife, Zosch (Eleanor Parker) needs him making money again fast. She needs doctors to treat her back injury, an injury that Frankie caused driving while he was messed up on heroin.
Zosch convinces Frankie to take his old job back. He had, at one time, been the best dealer in the illegal poker racket. Just to make some money, Frankie returns to the table and that decision puts him back in the clutches of his old boss Schwiefka (Robert Strauss) and his drug dealer Louie (Darren McGavin.) It’s worth mentioning at this point: that both Schwiefka and Louie call Frankie ‘dealer’ referring to his skill at the card table. I only bring it up because I was confused by the fact that dealer in this case had nothing to do with drug dealer. Trust me, whenever someone says ‘dealer’ they are talking about Sinatra’s character.
Just like Requiem for a Dream part of the point of this movie is the fact that everybody has an addiction to something. Just like Frankie feels like he needs a fix, Zosch believes that she needs her husband taking care of her. Just like I feel like I need my cuppa and ciggie in the morning, it seems to be something inherent in human nature. We all have addictions, and all addictions can become deadly.
The acting here is sharp, and for the most part pretty straightforward. Sinatra does an excellent job in conveying the helplessness of someone who has fallen back into the cycle. I was particularly impressed at how unglamorous his character comes across, no small feet for someone as famously vain as Sinatra was. Kim Novak is also excellent as Frankie’s girlfriend. They have a strong chemistry together, and bring out in each other just what it is that they are really longing for.Plot wise, everything rings true, except for the eventual ending which feels pat and overly ‘Hollywood’. But right up until that point we are carried along on a surprisingly daring story that deserves to be remembered along with the more flashy movies on this subject from recent years.