Man With the Golden Arm, The (1955)

“The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies.”

A drug-addicted ex-con (Frank Sinatra) returns to his neighborhood hoping to start a new life as a drummer, but is challenged by both his neurotically clingy wheelchair-bound wife (Eleanor Parker) and his former dealer (Darren McGavin), who’s eager to get him hooked again. Will a kind neighbor (Kim Novak) and a loyal friend (Arnold Stang) help him stay clean?


Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “effective Otto Preminger drama” — “famous for having defied the MPPA Code by dealing with drug addiction” — features Frank Sinatra giving “one of his best performances as Frank Machine”; Kim Novak “in one of her most relaxed, appealing characterizations”; and “taut and daring” direction by Preminger. However, he expresses frustration at the film being “much different than Nelson Algren’s prize-winning novel“, both in terms of altering “the book’s tragic ending” and in shifting Frank Machine’s “internal struggle and… ability to come to grips with his environment” towards “the struggle between good Novak and bad Parker for his soul”. While I haven’t read Algren’s novel and can’t speak to the motivations driving its protagonist, I was persuaded by Parker’s character symbolizing Sinatra’s “crippling” ties to his past, and Novak representing compassionate stability (the scene in which she holds Sinatra tight while he’s shivering on the ground is particularly moving). McGavin — best known to film fanatics as “Old Man Parker” in A Christmas Story (1983) — is eerily menacing as Sinatra’s dealer (ironically, he refers repeatedly to Sinatra as “Dealer” given Sinatra’s work as a poker game croupier). Elmer Bernstein’s driving score is top notch, and the cinematography is appropriately atmospheric. This one remains worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine
  • Darren McGavin as Louie
  • Kim Novak as Zosh
  • Eleanor Parker as Molly
  • A refreshingly candid look at drug addiction
  • Sam Leavitt’s cinematography
  • Saul Bass’s opening titles
  • Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful overall drama and for Sinatra’s performance.



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