Tuesday, December 24, 2002

"The Man with the Golden Arm"

"The Man with the Golden Arm," directed by Otto Preminger, is my video antidote to all the saccharin-sweet fare on television during the holiday season. Who needs a darling Natalie Wood when you can have a strung-out Frank Sinatra? In this 1955 film noir, based on the book by Nelson Algren, Sinatra stars as Frankie Machine: card dealer, ex-con, heroin addict, struggling to stay clean so he can audition as a drummer for a jazz band. With titles by Saul Bass, a soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein, great minimalist sets and adequate performances throughout, the whole of the film is never greater than the sum of its parts, but still worth the few bucks to rent. Ol' Blue Eye’s jittery, angsty performance is overly dramatic, almost a caricature, but still riveting. (Definitely check him out in "The Manchurian Candidate.") Eleanor Parker as Frankie’s manipulative wife, Zosch, and Kim Novak as his girlfriend, Molly, are only fair, and the ending is contrived. Recent films such as "Requiem for a Dream" and "Trainspotting" provide more compelling examinations of heroin use, but "Golden Arm" merits a watch if for no other reason than to see how Preminger tackled drug abuse in the repressive 1950s. Bonus: a possible precursor to Celebrity Death Match? Chairman of the Board Sinatra takes on Austrian dictator Preminger.