The Man With The Golden Arm, 1955. 9/10

Always good to catch Frank Sinatra in a movie. He played a lot of interesting characters on screen; here he’s got Kim Novak as well. Crime and underworld stuff is surely on display when we’ve got characters named Drunky and Sparrow (John Conti and Arnold Stang). Not to mention that Sinatra is Frankie Machine, and Eleanor Parker is his wife, Zosh Machine. I wish he’d gone with DuVall, the stage name he comes up with; Machine’s too showbizzy. Darren McGavin is Louie, Robert Strauss is the gambler Schwiefka, Doro Mirandi is Vi, we’ve got a cop, Det. Bednar (Emile Meyer), and Novak is Molly, an old flame of Frankie’s.

The golden arm refers to Frankie’s heroin addiction, card-dealing, (his other addiction), and his new deal, playing the drums. He feels stuck with the disabled Zosh (she’s bagging it for extra pity, it seems); but still wants Molly. Clearly, Zosh is manipulative to the point of sabotaging Frankie. She can’t stand not being the center of attention; even to the point of engaging quack doctors. He’s dealing with guilt; as his drunk-driving accident resulted in her disabling injury.

When he gets out of rehab, he gets pushed around a few too many times, and he’s back on the junk. He’s in a rut. He’s set up by Schwiefka for shoplifting, then beholden to him for his bail. The barroom scenes are great: the regulars are such characters, a joy to watch. Molly is sort of lost too; with a lousy boyfriend, and a boring job. He wants to take up with Molly, on the sly.

They have great chemistry–they seem to understand each other. It’s an interesting triangle in that his wife is less deserving of his care, attention, and love than Molly. It’s hard to figure why Zosh would rather have him continue dealing than pursue a legitimate, fulfilling music career. But that’s just it, if he’s happy, she’s diminished. So he falls back into the junk habit for the second time. And messes up at the club. And his thing with Molly.

Back to dealing. The card play is fascinating, tense, similar to the poolroom scenes in The Hustler. “No deal, no fix!” He’s hooked again. He’s literally in a fix: his game is going down the the drain because he needs a fix; but he won’t get one until the house starts winning again. Meaning he has to risk cheating. Of course he gets caught–and takes all the blame. Louie won’t fix him up, so he beats him up, then splits to his audition.

He starts off well, then flames out. Louie’s after him. He bursts in on Zosh, who is walking about easy-like. He’s flabbergasted; she wants to get rid of him, and manages to push him down the stairwell. He’s dead. Frankie wants to hit up Molly for money; he doesn’t know about Louie. Johnny shows up, tells her the scoop. Obviously, everyone, especially the cops, think that Frankie killed Louie.

Molly shames him about his habit “why should you hurt like other people hurt?” He listens; she offers to help him. We know that they trust each other. Well, like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, Frankie goes nuts, and, also like Milland, very convincingly. Molly goes to look in on Zosh. “You think I don’t know what you’re up to?” Zosh tells her. Molly seems to pray as she looks up from Frankie’s writhing, moaning body. Pretty much miraculously, Frankie seems to be recovering by morning.

Johnny tips off the cops to Frankie’s whereabouts. He tells Zosh he’s splitting; in her excitement, just as with Louie, she gets up. When the police arrive they size things up, and plan to take her in. But now it’s her turn to go off the stairs. Great denouement. Zosh is exposed, not only as a phony, but also as a murderess. Frankie’s in the clear–clean with himself and with the law.

The Man With The Golden Arm is stocked up with wonderful performances. Every character adds to the story in their own individual, idiosyncratic way. It’s been said that this is a love story as much as a story of addiction–that’s true. There’s such a range of emotional states played so well by the three main characters (Frankie, Molly, and Zosh) that it’s an exhausting, but ultimately redemptive journey.

My only gripe is that the studio setting lent a fairly generic feel to the street scenes. By contrast, though, the interiors were uniformly dingy (with the apt exception of the clubs) and confining, very much sordid noir places. The music was effective, but there’s too much of the same tune. For a relatively long movie, the pacing worked to keep the viewer engaged throughout.

Farmermouse is still trying to fill an inside straight, so he gives this nine beers. 9/10

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