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If there were ever any doubts about Frank Sinatra's acting ability, The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) is the film that removed them, giving Sinatra an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor. A famous shocker in its time, The Man with the Golden Arm is also one of the first to deal honestly and directly with drug addiction. Sinatra plays a supposedly dried-out addict who returns to Chicago with big plans of becoming a jazz drummer. His bitter wife wants him to return to poker playing (the "golden arm" of the title) and the local drug dealer (Darren McGavin of Night Stalker fame) wants him for a customer. When he hits the night clubs, Sinatra falls for a professional bar hostess (Kim Novak) while sliding further and further back into his addiction until he feels that something has to give.
Nelson Algren's novel The Man with the Golden Arm was such a controversial bestseller that somebody was bound to film it. John Garfield bought the rights but after his death, director/producer Otto Preminger acquired them. He had Algren come out to Hollywood for the adaptation but the novelist didn't have much of a film sense so the script had to be rewritten, much to Algren's irritation. Preminger sent the first half of the script to Frank Sinatra's and Marlon Brando's agents, getting an almost immediate response from Sinatra who was ready to sign the dotted line without seeing the rest. The contract was quickly done only to hear that they didn't even give Brando time to see the script. (In an odd twist, years later Preminger was working on adapting The Godfather and thought Sinatra indispensable. Sinatra passed on the film and consequently so did Preminger leaving Brando to get the lead role.) Sinatra and Preminger got along wonderfully, Sinatra calling Preminger by his middle name Ludwig (which he deliberately mispronounced "Ludvig") while Preminger jokingly pulled "Anatole" from thin air as his name for Sinatra.
Before working on this film, Sinatra had generally declined rehearsals, being famous for his insistence on filming quickly and getting it done. Preminger talked him into rehearsing and Sinatra soon discovered how much he actually enjoyed the process. Throughout filming Sinatra was considerate of Kim Novak's nervousness as a new actor in such a high-profile film, even redoing scenes up to 35 times without complaining.
When The Man with the Golden Arm was finished, the Production Code refused a seal of approval to the film because it dealt with narcotics, a clear no-no under the Code. Preminger said he always expected they would change their mind after seeing the quality of the film but the Code didn't allow for such leeway. So United Artists released the film without a seal and it became commercially successful, helping lead to the collapse of the old form of Hollywood censorship. The film also received Oscar® nominations for art direction and for Elmer Bernstein's jazzy score (look for real-life jazz musicians Shorty Rogers and Shelley Manne).
Director/Producer: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer, Ben Hecht (uncredited), based on the novel by Nelson Algren
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Editor: Louis R. Loeffler
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Frank Sinatra (Frankie Machine), Eleanor Parker (Zosch Machine), Kim Novak (Molly), Arnold Stang (Sparrow), Darren McGavin (Louie).
by Lang Thompson