Blog Directory CineVerse: Old blue eyes strikes gold―in glorious black and white

Old blue eyes strikes gold―in glorious black and white

Friday, July 31, 2020

It's interesting to wonder what The Man With the Golden Arm would have been like if Marlon Brando, the other actor considered for the role of Frankie Machine (which ultimately went to Frank Sinatra), got the part, considering how this movie feels like a distant relative to the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Both films feature claustrophobic urban environments where women are pressured by domineering or flawed men, and both movies feel like stage play adaptations, even though Golden Arm was sourced from a controversial novel and never saw the light of Broadway. We gave this film the CineVerse treatment last Wednesday and arrived at the following conclusions (to hear our group discussion of this picture, click here).

What was interesting, unexpected, surprising, or rewarding about this picture?

  • This was a groundbreaking film on several fronts. Research suggests it was the first major motion picture to seriously tackle the topic of narcotic addiction (The Lost Weekend first addressed alcoholism 10 years earlier). Also, it helped diminish the power of Hollywood censorship by weakening the Production Code Administration and taking on the Catholic Legion of Decency. Director Otto Preminger and the film’s distributor, United Artists, took a chance on adapting this controversial novel for the screen and releasing it theatrically before receiving a PCA seal of approval. Note that the Hays Office and PCA prohibited even a mention of drug use in movies at this time. The PCA and MPAA banned the film, but no theaters that booked it stopped its exhibition. Lots of people paid for tickets, thanks in large part to the publicity generated from all this controversy. These collective factors helped weaken the censorship powers in the movie industry.
  • Frank Sinatra appears well cast, earning an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for best art direction/set decoration, and best music.
    • Sinatra is convincing as a man suffering through cold turkey hell and constantly besieged by marital, career, and societal pressures.
  • The opening titles, by Saul Bass, proved innovative; Bass later designed many memorable stylized film titles for Hitchcock, Preminger again, and Martin Scorsese.
  • The ending feels very Hollywood tacked-on; the original novel concludes with Frankie killing a man and committing suicide, his wife going insane, and Molly becoming a prostitute.
    • Also, it defies belief that this drug addict with few career prospects or cash would be so coveted by two highly attractive women, one of whom maintains a charade of being crippled for years and the other who risks personal safety and humiliation to befriend Frankie.

Themes explored in this film

  • Loss and redemption. Frankie was redeemed earlier when he was released, clean and sober, from a prison hospital. By the end of the film, he kicks the habit again and ditches his old life of card dealing for two-bit hustlers.
  • The consequences of addiction. Not only is Frankie hooked on heroin, but he easily falls into old habits, too, like going back to his old job dealing cards for shady characters. He finds it hard to shake his past and his proclivities for risky behavior.
  • Taking a chance on love. Molly, the matchstick girl with a heart of gold, has been burned time and again by wounded strays like Frankie and her new lowlife boyfriend. But even after skipping town to get away from it all, she returns and, with the prospect of little reward, allows Frankie to sober up in her apartment. Her faith in him pays off by the film’s conclusion, as we see the two, now both free from past entanglements, able to assumedly live a romantic life together.
  • We are a product of our environment. Frankie returns to familiar territory once released from rehabilitation, only to be infected again by the crooked characters and malignant milieu of the Chicago neighborhood he calls home.

Other films that The Man With the Golden Arm conjures up

  • The Lost Weekend
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • Clean and Sober
  • Rush
  • Trainspotting
  • 28 Days

Other films by Otto Preminger

  • Laura
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Carmen Jones
  • Advise & Consent
  • Bunny Lake is Missing
  • Fallen Angel
  • Angel Face

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