When I first looked through the new edition and saw a film titled The Man with the Golden Arm, I immediately assumed the list had added yet another baseball film akin to The Natural. So when I went to the film’s entry and discovered it was really about a man struggling with a heroin addiction, it caught me modestly off guard. More in the vein of The Lost Weekend, The Man with the Golden Arm has much in common with that film, though there are some key differences that make this stand out enough on its own. But not by much.
The film is the tale of Frankie Machine, played by Frank Sinatra, who’s just gotten out of prison, during which he rehabilitated himself and kicked his heroin addiction. Now out and looking to make a legitimate name for himself as a band drummer, he runs right into his old life in the form of his wheelchair-bound, desperately clingy wife (who’s actually faking her illness), his old heroin dealer, and his prior employer, to whom he worked as a card dealer in illegal games. All have a vested interest in getting Frankie back into his old life, no matter how much he tries to keep himself straight, and it’s through the attentions of an old flame that he might be able to overcome the stacked deck against him. Really, aside from the plot, there isn’t much to this one. Everything down to the technicals was well done, but nothing notable. The one thing that was especially memorable was the score, absolutely filled with jazz influences, as well as more than a little sleaze, to fit into Frankie’s tough new lifestyle (and a bit of his old one). As for the plot, it was actually pretty engaging, especially when you consider the age of Hollywood and the country that this was made in. The one thing I didn’t really understand was why Frankie’s wife was trying to manipulate him and generally get him back to his old ways. There didn’t seem to be any reason for her actions, or anything to gain from her doing so, but she was relentless in her pursuit all the same. It seemed to be there just to make her a villain for the sake of having one, even though the story itself would’ve been rife with seedy characters to try and lead Frankie astray (which it already is).
Once again, I’m left a little befuddled as to why one of the new additions did in fact make the list. It’s not like director Otto Preminger wasn’t already well represented in the Book, and the subject matter, while different from The Lost Weekend, isn’t really different enough. Oh well; regardless, I still enjoyed this one, even though I couldn’t really find many aspects to it that were reviewable. I’d still give this a recommendation, but if you’re marathoning classic films, you might not get as much out of this one as you may hope. Still a decent flick, though.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10