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Man With the Golden Arm, The (1955) * Hidden Gem *


As if! He can act too!?!
As if! He can act too!?!

Genre: Drama Film Noir

Starring: Frank Sinatra (Ocean's ElevenThe Manchurian Candidate), Kim Novak (Vertigo)

Directed By: Otto Preminger (ExodusAngel Face)

Overview: This is the tale of a changed man, a junkie fresh out of jail with the monkey off his back and with a dream of becoming a drummer. When he returns to his old neighbourhood though, he finds things to be all too much the same...

I really, really, really hate spoilers. They're everywhere.  In my big book of 1001 Movies, on IMdB, even on the backs of the DVD / VHS cases. The answer is simple: if I've decided to see a movie, I don't want to know anything more about it.

That means now, when people ask me "what is this movie about?" my answer is usually "I dunno, it's on my list."  What I'm getting at is when I received The Bigamist (1953), included with it was The Man With The Golden Arm. The picture on the cover was of Frank Sinatra, and a poker hand. That's all I knew about it - some inferior Ocean's Eleven I'd never get around to.  Well a streak of synchronicity this week happened when I was reading a Time magazine article about addiction. There was a picture of good 'ol Frankie with a needle in his arm and the caption "a musician deals with heroin addiction in The Man With The Golden Arm". That's when I decided I'd take a gander, loving dark subjects as I do.


The story is classic Noir - simply put, a man with high hopes ends up down a dark road, and we're left to wonder if he'll sink or swim. What is most amazing about this film is the dialogue, the characters and the performances. This is the kind of tale that lets you know who we're dealing with in mere moments:  

A perfect name in Frankie Machine (Sinatra) - a poker dealer with a great reputation, now become a drummer, hoping for a clean break.

His clingy, wheelchair-bound wife Zosch Machine, who seems to prefer seeing him bringing home the bacon over seeing him stay clean.

Molly (Kim Novak) - the beautiful, strong and caring woman you wish Frankie had, cause she's just what he needs.

Sparrow - Frankie's diminutive four-eyed fence of a best friend.

Louis - The man of opportunity, setting up gambling rings and selling heroin, ever offering Frankie the old familiar life.

Such a mix of characters offers both purity and downfall depending on what decisions Frankie makes, and it's a treasure watching him trying to change his life by going from well-respected poker dealer to band drummer hopeful.

Sinatra was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Frankie Machine, but I personally found that each and every single person in his supporting cast deserves even more credit for making this film what it is: a perfectly played, character-rich story about one of the most important moments a man would have to face in his life. 

As 'sad tales with a spark of hope' go, I'll tell you this much: a beautifullt-told story full of sincere drama, nice honest twists and a perfect ending.

I was pissed to know I hadn't heard of this sooner. The Man With The Golden Arm is the reason I watch film. Knowing so little about something and then being blown away by it, and having discovered it all on my own, well I think I can safely say that that's the best use of my filmgoing time ever. 

Novak = 100 times better than in Vertigo
Novak = 100 times better than in Vertigo

Overall Rating: 86% (Gold, Gold, Gold!)

I'm officially there: this film was the first movie where I realized it was shot on a set, and rather than wishing it was more real, I was comforted by the fact. An interesting observation, but not as interesting as watching my Film Noir theory yet again come to fruition - all Film Noir has slapping in it. And kids, the scene when it happens in The Man With The Golden Arm, boy do the fingers FLY! Best bitch-slap moment... ever. 

I love this film... I'd be glad to lend it to any one of you readers out there!


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Yeah, this one is great. Your review makes me want to watch it again. I don't think I've seen it in at least 10 years...


But NO WAY is Kim Novak better in this than in Vertigo! 

YES! YES! YES! but only 10 times
Besides, I'm sure it was a better experience for her, Hitchcock gave her a 'I can't compare to Grace Kelly, why are you trying to make me into her' complex...

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