Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Man With the Golden Arm

Another movie I thought I had done a blog post about before, but apparently haven't, is The Man With the Golden Arm. It airing tonight at 12:15 AM as part of the first night in the salute to Star of the Month Kim Novak.

The star of the movie isn't Novak, but Frank Sinatra. He plays Frankie Machine, a man who has just gotten out from a six-month stint in a federal prison/hospital. Frankie was a dealer for an illegal card game that was raided, but got only the punishment that he did because of his heroin addiction. His time at the federal facility was supposed to detox him, as well as giving him a new skill so that he could start a new life and leave the old, drug-filled lifestyle behind. That skill is playing the drums, and Frankie is hoping he can get his card from the musicians' guild so that he can join a band. (As if there were no drugs in the world of jazz, but that's another story.)

Anyhow, we quickly see why Frankie was a user in the first place: he's got a lot of problems, and that's putting it mildly. Perhaps chief among these is his wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker). She's confined to a wheelchair, thanks to a car accident suffered when Frankie was driving drunk. And dammit, Zosh isn't about to let Frankie forget what happened, although to be fair, being crippled by your spouse probably would change your outlook on life and that spouse rather significantly. There's also Schwiefka (Robert Strauss), the man who organizes the card game for which Frankie deals. Finally, perhaps as important as Zosh is Loiue (Darren McGavin). He's the man who sold Frankie his heroin, and he would love to get a good customer back.

Trying to help Frankie are two people. First is his good friend Sparrow (Arnold Stang). Sparrow, however, lives on the fringes of the law, and this presents a problem straight off when Sparrow tries to help out Frankie by getting a suit for Frankie to wear to auditions. That suit is shoplifted, and getting Frankie in trouble with the law again is what enables Schwiefka and Louie to sink their claws back into Frankie. The other good person is Frankie's old flame, Molly (Star of the Month Novak). Frankie would be with her if it weren't for what he did to Zosh, and Molly would be willing to be with him if she could be sure that Frankie has really kicked his drug habit. At the same time, Zosh is worried that Frankie is going to leave her for Molly -- not without reason.

The Man With the Golden Arm is about as gritty as you could get for a movie in the mid-1950s, and as far as I can tell is well-acted. I have no idea what heroin addiction is really like, not even second-hand, so I can't really speak to how accurate everything is. But Sinatra's scenes of the effects of the herois use, and especially the withdrawal symptoms, are disquieting. I have a feeling Molly is a bit too perfect, while Sparrow is also a bit too clean-cut for a man in his position. He looks more like the romanticized characters in Damon Runyon stories than a gritty petty criminal, who would probably look old before his time. Those criticisms aside, the story is quite good, although the ending is a bit convenient.

The Man With the Golden Arm is another of those movies that got a DVD release in the past, but seems to be out of print, as it's only available from Amazon, and not the TCM Shop.


Judy said...

I was blown away by this film - Sinatra is fantastic, and the drug sequences are really memorable.

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

The 50s drug movie I'd really like to blog about is Stakeout on Dope Street, but it doesn't seem to be on DVD, and I don't TCM hasn't run it since the Guest Programmer month back in November 2007 when James Ellroy picked it. Three teens find a suitcase with a bunch of heroin in it, and make the brilliant decision to try to sell it themselves. Well, with the help of a junkie who has a flashback scene about heroin withdrawal.