The Man With The Golden Arm

Lots to like here – although Frank Sinatra’s portrait of a recovering junkie is very much of its time, and perhaps looks a bit dated now. The set recreates a Chicago street, and if it’s a stretch to believe that the characters spend 95% of their lives within the same couple of blocks, it is at least believable as a location (though, as David Thomson has pointed out, for a film set in Chicago with a main character who dreams of being a jazz drummer and therefore visits a jazz venue, there’s a notable absence of people of colour). Anyway, Sinatra plays ex-con, recovering heroin addict and card dealer Frankie Machine, who whines and pines his way through the film, lusting after Kim Novak’s encouraging, positive neighbour while gradually being drawn back to his old pre-prison sentence life. This features small time dealers and gangsters, his friend Sparrow (a terrific Arnold Stang) and his wheelchair-bound wife Zosch (Eleanor Parker), who he has stayed with out of guilt — she is in a wheelchair because of a car accident, apparently caused by Frankie’s drink-driving. There’s a toughness to the story, and some truly outstanding scenes (a long card game is full of tension; and the whole part showing the end of Frankie’s abstention from heroin is brilliant). The acting is good, the characters memorable, and the score by Elmer Bernstein is insistent and perfectly in tune with the action and the way the film has been edited. Lovely title credits from Saul Bass, too. (****)