The Man with the Golden Arm


1h 59m 1956
The Man with the Golden Arm

Brief Synopsis

A junkie must face his true self to kick his drug addiction.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1956
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Dec 1955; Los Angeles opening: 26 Dec 1955; Chicago, IL opening: 28 Dec 1955
Production Company
Carlyle Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren (Garden City, NY, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In the late 1940s, Frankie Majcinek, who is known as Frankie Machine, returns to Chicago's South Side, which is mostly inhabited by Polish Americans, after serving a six-month sentence at a federal narcotics hospital. The denizens of Antek's Tug `n' Maul Tavern, Frankie's favorite bar, are pleased to see Frankie, especially his best friend, "lost dog finder" Sparrow. Although Frankie's former drug supplier, Nifty Louie Fomorowski, offers Frankie a free "fix," Frankie refuses and vows to Sparrow that he has kicked narcotics for good and intends to become a drummer for a big-name band. Frankie proudly shows off the drums he was given at the hospital, and after sending Sparrow to find him some new clothes, goes to the roominghouse where he lives with his wheelchair-bound wife Zosh.

The neurotic Zosh, determined to keep Frankie with her by whatever means necessary, has manipulated him for three years by playing on his guilt over causing the accident that injured her while he was driving drunk. Zosh is dubious about his plans to become a musician and urges him to return to dealing poker for Zero Schwiefka. Frankie's consistent method of dealing has earned him a city-wide reputation as "the man with the golden arm," but Frankie is determined to improve his life so that he is not tempted to return to drugs. Frankie calls Harry Lane, a musical agent referred to him by his doctor at the narcotics hospital, and makes an appointment to see him. After Sparrow returns with a "borrowed" suit for Frankie to wear, they stop at Antek's for a drink and there run into Schwiefka. Frankie announces his intention to quit dealing, and the angry Schwiefka notifies "Cousin" Kvorka, a local beat policeman, that Frankie and Sparrow shoplifted a suit.

Kvorka takes the pair to police captain "Record Head" Bednar, who wearily ignores Frankie's protests that he has a job interview and insists that he be locked up. Schwiefka then offers to bail out Frankie and Sparrow if Frankie returns to deal for him, and Frankie is forced to accept. Disturbed by a jailed junkie's tormented plea for a fix, Frankie returns home, where Zosh is pleased that he is going back to dealing cards. That night, Louie's taunts about Frankie's shaking hand unnerve the dealer and he leaves to visit the Safari Club, a nearby strip bar where Frankie's former sweetheart, Molly Novotny, works as a b-girl. Although Molly and Frankie are still in love, Frankie's guilt over causing Zosh's paralysis have kept them apart. Frankie tries to tell Molly that she should leave her current boyfriend, the chiseling, alcoholic Drunkie John, but Molly states that she needs someone to stave off her deep-seated loneliness. Soon after, Frankie has an interview with Lane, who promises to call him with an audition for a band, but warns him that if he backslides even once, Lane will no longer sponsor him.

Despite Frankie's happiness, Zosh nags at him that he is being unrealistic in striving for a better life. A week passes without word from Lane, and Frankie sinks into depression, until one afternoon, Frankie runs into Louie and, succumbing to temptation, accompanies Louie to his apartment for a fix. Louie gleefully tells Frankie that "the monkey never dies" as he injects him with the drug, and Frankie is hooked again. Later, after yet another quarrel with Zosh, Frankie storms down to Antek's. There he meets Molly, who encourages him to call Lane, telling him that Lane probably lost his phone number. Molly proves to be correct, and Lane arranges for Frankie to audition for Shorty Rogers' band on the coming Monday. Frankie then pleads with Molly to let him practice playing his drums in her room, as the spiteful Zosh has forbidden him to do so in their room. Although she is reluctant to encourage Frankie's hopes of building a future for the two of them, Molly agrees, and when she comes home early the next morning, he happily greets her. After bragging that he has quit Schwiefka and joined the musicians' union, Frankie promises Molly that he is going to kick drugs again, and that after he has made some money and can send Zosh to a clinic, they will be together.

Meanwhile, Schwiefka and Louie search for Frankie, as they have used Frankie's reputation to lure two big-time gamblers, Markette and Williams, to play in Schwiefka's poker game. After Zosh urges Frankie to deal the big game and tears up his musicians' union card, Frankie seeks refuge at Antek's, where Louie offers him some of the profits if he will deal for Markette and Williams. Desperately needing the money, Frankie agrees, and again gives in when Louie tempts him with another fix. Frankie then goes to the Safari Club, where a disappointed Molly berates him for getting high. When Frankie gets in a fight with John, Molly hurriedly leaves the neighborhood without telling Frankie where she is going.

Later, Frankie deals the game for Markette and Williams, and his skill easily enables the house to win. After dealing all night, an exhausted Frankie insists on leaving, but when he arrives home, he is suddenly overwhelmed by the need for a fix and rushes back to Schwiefka's. Louie refuses to give Frankie any drugs unless he resumes dealing, because Markette and Williams have begun to win. As the hours pass, the game continues, and soon it is early Monday morning. Louie promises Frankie that if he cheats and wins, he will give him a fix, but Frankie, weary from his long hours of dealing, becomes careless, and Williams spots his card-palming and beats him. After Louie then refuses to give Frankie any drugs, Frankie knocks him out and searches his apartment, to no avail. Frankie then goes to his audition but cannot play competently due to his withdrawal symptoms.

Meanwhile, Louie regains consciousness and goes to the roominghouse to exact his revenge upon Frankie. Instead, Louie accidentally enters the room as Zosh is walking and deduces that she has been pretending to be paralyzed. When Louie threatens to reveal her secret, the hysterical Zosh pushes him down the stairwell to his death. Frankie, not knowing of Louie's death but fearing that he is after him, runs away and finds Molly, whom he begs for help. While Bednar is questioning Zosh, Molly learns from John that Frankie is Bednar's main suspect. Molly then agrees to help Frankie quit drugs cold turkey, so that he can go to the police sober and withstand questioning to prove his innocence. After an agonizing few days, during which Frankie suffers great torment, he is free of his craving. John sees Frankie in Molly's apartment, however, and alerts Bednar. Frankie leaves before Bednar arrives, and Molly takes the police captain to Zosh's, where Frankie is telling her that he is going away with Molly. Just as a terrified Zosh gets up from her wheelchair to chase after Frankie, Bednar and Molly arrive, and they all realize that Zosh must have killed Louie. Before Bednar can arrest her, Zosh runs out to the fire escape and falls to street below. Frankie rushes to the street, where Zosh lays dying, and holds her as she tells him she loves him. After Zosh dies, Frankie and Molly slowly walk off together, leaving their old life behind.

Photo Collections

The Man with the Golden Arm - Academy Archives
Here are archive images from The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), courtesy of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1956
Premiere Information
New York opening: 15 Dec 1955; Los Angeles opening: 26 Dec 1955; Chicago, IL opening: 28 Dec 1955
Production Company
Carlyle Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren (Garden City, NY, 1949).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1955
Frank Sinatra

Best Art Direction

1955
Joseph C Wright

Best Score

1955

Articles

The Man with the Golden Arm - The Man With the Golden Arm


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).
BW-119m.

by Lang Thompson
The Man With The Golden Arm - The Man With The Golden Arm

The Man with the Golden Arm - The Man With the Golden Arm

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). BW-119m. by Lang Thompson

The Man With the Golden Arm - Frank Sinatra Stars in Otto Preminger's 1955 Drama, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM


Frank Sinatra earned an Oscar® for From Here to Eternity but his acting is even better in Otto Preminger's landmark drama The Man with the Golden Arm. Nelson Algren's novel had once been considered as a vehicle for John Garfield, until it became clear that any story about drug addiction would never be granted a Production Code Seal. Independent producer Preminger was willing to take risks that the studios were not. Always keen to break the power of the Code, Preminger intuited that the free publicity generated by a censorship battle would position Arm as a must-see special event movie.

Synopsis: Poker dealer and heroin addict Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) returns clean and sober from the prison hospital only to find that the pressures of life on the street are too much for him. He's trapped in a guilty marriage to Zosch (Eleanor Parker) because he crippled her in a car crash. Although Frankie's learned to play the drums and is eager to find work with a band, his controlling wife only wants him to stay with her. Insecure and unhappy, he strays in the direction of nightclub girl Molly (Kim Novak) and is abused by two greedy and manipulative associates. Schweifka (Robert Strauss) schemes to make him go back to dealing for illegal poker games. Pusher Louie (Darren McGavin) gets Frankie hooked on dope again, just as his big band audition is coming up.

Otto Preminger had already won a censor battle with his 1953 romantic comedy The Moon is Blue, which defied the Code's edict that the words 'virgin' and 'pregnant' could not be spoken in a movie. Preminger also refused to cut dialogue in which Maggie McNamara and William Holden debate the idea that a young woman might have sex before marriage and still be a 'good girl'. The resulting furor transformed a fairly innocuous comedy into a solid hit. The Man with the Golden Arm challenged an even stronger cinema taboo, drug addiction. With the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, the mere mention of drug use all but disappeared from American screens. The Man with the Golden Arm shows in detail the preparations for shooting up heroin, holding back nothing save the actual image of a needle entering an arm. Even more harrowing is Sinatra's portrayal of a violent cold turkey withdrawal episode. Many audiences of 1955 had never heard of substance withdrawal, let alone seen such a thing represented on film.

The Man with the Golden Arm is less a Film Noir than a Zola- like examination of a sordid environment. Frankie Machine (his real name is Majcinek) is a clear victim of pernicious social forces. The selfish, demanding Zosch weakens his sense of self-esteem. Louie and Schweifka are similarly set on controlling Machine for their own ends. Schwiefka has Frankie busted for theft, and then bails him out with the proviso that he must repay his debt by using his 'golden arm' to deal poker. The only law in sight is Emil Meyer's cynical detective, and he considers junkies to be beneath concern or sympathy. Drained of hope, Frankie is headed for the bottom when Molly assumes the responsibility of drying him out once more.

Otto Preminger was not the kind of director attracted to stories set on Skid Row. His elaborate Division Street exterior set is almost as antiseptic as Sam Goldwyn's cleaned-up slum in the 1937 Dead End, and the glamorous Kim Novak looks decidedly out of place. With its colorful array of lowlife denizens (Arnold Stang, Doro Merande, Leonid Kinskey), the movie plays like a Damon Runyon story suffering a severe case of depression. Preminger also knew that the extremes of Nelson Algren's bleak novel would need to be softened for general audiences. The book's Frankie commits murder and hangs himself. His crippled wife goes crazy and Molly becomes a prostitute. Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer's screenplay overturns this fatal determinism in favor of a melodramatic, hopeful finish. Preminger and his writers invent a twist ending that conveniently resolves at least some of Frankie's worst problems.

We're told that the unusually insecure Kim Novak required many takes for each of her scenes, something that doesn't show in the final product. Eleanor Parker succeeds in a thankless role, bringing to life the film's least believable character. The supporting actors also do excellent work but it's ultimately Sinatra's movie. His committed performance compensates for the fake sets and the unusually lifeless B&W photography. In less-than-optimal prints, The Man with the Golden Arm can easily be confused with a contrast-starved Kinescope.

Preminger makes frequent use of long takes, following Frankie as he thrashes in the torment of withdrawal, and using a crane to track characters through the Division Street set. The film's main titles attracted major attention for designer Saul Bass. His stylized 'crooked arm' graphic condenses the entire movie into a single dynamic image. Elmer Bernstein's innovative jazz score also makes a strong first impression, and started a trend for jazz in movies that lasted five or six years.

Thanks to Otto Preminger's brilliant use of publicity, United Artists were able to book theaters to play The Man with the Golden Arm despite its lack of a Production Code Seal. When the censor boards of three cities demanded cuts Preminger took Baltimore to court, and won his case. The director proudly declared that he had "established freedom of expression for motion pictures". Six years later, the film was granted the Code's Seal of Approval. By that time, Preminger had also helped break the infamous Hollywood blacklist.

Warner Home Video's disc of The Man with the Golden Arm is the first really satisfactory presentation of this classic on disc. Several editions have been released by various DVD labels, all of them flat full frame and some of very poor quality. This edition's excellent transfer gives the movie back its film texture although the pale lighting still reminds of old B&W TV soap operas. The film has also been formatted in its correct matted widescreen aspect ratio. The tighter framing enhances Sinatra and Novak's performances.

The making-of featurette Shoot Up / Shoot Out covers the film's controversy in a suitably nervous, graphics-heavy style. Biographer Foster Hirsch participates in the interviews, adding a number of important observations to the film's fascinating history. An original trailer is included as well.

For more information about The Man With the Golden Arm, visit Warner Video. To order The Man With the Golden Arm, go to TCM Shopping

by Glenn Erickson

The Man With the Golden Arm - Frank Sinatra Stars in Otto Preminger's 1955 Drama, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM

Frank Sinatra earned an Oscar® for From Here to Eternity but his acting is even better in Otto Preminger's landmark drama The Man with the Golden Arm. Nelson Algren's novel had once been considered as a vehicle for John Garfield, until it became clear that any story about drug addiction would never be granted a Production Code Seal. Independent producer Preminger was willing to take risks that the studios were not. Always keen to break the power of the Code, Preminger intuited that the free publicity generated by a censorship battle would position Arm as a must-see special event movie. Synopsis: Poker dealer and heroin addict Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) returns clean and sober from the prison hospital only to find that the pressures of life on the street are too much for him. He's trapped in a guilty marriage to Zosch (Eleanor Parker) because he crippled her in a car crash. Although Frankie's learned to play the drums and is eager to find work with a band, his controlling wife only wants him to stay with her. Insecure and unhappy, he strays in the direction of nightclub girl Molly (Kim Novak) and is abused by two greedy and manipulative associates. Schweifka (Robert Strauss) schemes to make him go back to dealing for illegal poker games. Pusher Louie (Darren McGavin) gets Frankie hooked on dope again, just as his big band audition is coming up. Otto Preminger had already won a censor battle with his 1953 romantic comedy The Moon is Blue, which defied the Code's edict that the words 'virgin' and 'pregnant' could not be spoken in a movie. Preminger also refused to cut dialogue in which Maggie McNamara and William Holden debate the idea that a young woman might have sex before marriage and still be a 'good girl'. The resulting furor transformed a fairly innocuous comedy into a solid hit. The Man with the Golden Arm challenged an even stronger cinema taboo, drug addiction. With the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, the mere mention of drug use all but disappeared from American screens. The Man with the Golden Arm shows in detail the preparations for shooting up heroin, holding back nothing save the actual image of a needle entering an arm. Even more harrowing is Sinatra's portrayal of a violent cold turkey withdrawal episode. Many audiences of 1955 had never heard of substance withdrawal, let alone seen such a thing represented on film. The Man with the Golden Arm is less a Film Noir than a Zola- like examination of a sordid environment. Frankie Machine (his real name is Majcinek) is a clear victim of pernicious social forces. The selfish, demanding Zosch weakens his sense of self-esteem. Louie and Schweifka are similarly set on controlling Machine for their own ends. Schwiefka has Frankie busted for theft, and then bails him out with the proviso that he must repay his debt by using his 'golden arm' to deal poker. The only law in sight is Emil Meyer's cynical detective, and he considers junkies to be beneath concern or sympathy. Drained of hope, Frankie is headed for the bottom when Molly assumes the responsibility of drying him out once more. Otto Preminger was not the kind of director attracted to stories set on Skid Row. His elaborate Division Street exterior set is almost as antiseptic as Sam Goldwyn's cleaned-up slum in the 1937 Dead End, and the glamorous Kim Novak looks decidedly out of place. With its colorful array of lowlife denizens (Arnold Stang, Doro Merande, Leonid Kinskey), the movie plays like a Damon Runyon story suffering a severe case of depression. Preminger also knew that the extremes of Nelson Algren's bleak novel would need to be softened for general audiences. The book's Frankie commits murder and hangs himself. His crippled wife goes crazy and Molly becomes a prostitute. Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer's screenplay overturns this fatal determinism in favor of a melodramatic, hopeful finish. Preminger and his writers invent a twist ending that conveniently resolves at least some of Frankie's worst problems. We're told that the unusually insecure Kim Novak required many takes for each of her scenes, something that doesn't show in the final product. Eleanor Parker succeeds in a thankless role, bringing to life the film's least believable character. The supporting actors also do excellent work but it's ultimately Sinatra's movie. His committed performance compensates for the fake sets and the unusually lifeless B&W photography. In less-than-optimal prints, The Man with the Golden Arm can easily be confused with a contrast-starved Kinescope. Preminger makes frequent use of long takes, following Frankie as he thrashes in the torment of withdrawal, and using a crane to track characters through the Division Street set. The film's main titles attracted major attention for designer Saul Bass. His stylized 'crooked arm' graphic condenses the entire movie into a single dynamic image. Elmer Bernstein's innovative jazz score also makes a strong first impression, and started a trend for jazz in movies that lasted five or six years. Thanks to Otto Preminger's brilliant use of publicity, United Artists were able to book theaters to play The Man with the Golden Arm despite its lack of a Production Code Seal. When the censor boards of three cities demanded cuts Preminger took Baltimore to court, and won his case. The director proudly declared that he had "established freedom of expression for motion pictures". Six years later, the film was granted the Code's Seal of Approval. By that time, Preminger had also helped break the infamous Hollywood blacklist. Warner Home Video's disc of The Man with the Golden Arm is the first really satisfactory presentation of this classic on disc. Several editions have been released by various DVD labels, all of them flat full frame and some of very poor quality. This edition's excellent transfer gives the movie back its film texture although the pale lighting still reminds of old B&W TV soap operas. The film has also been formatted in its correct matted widescreen aspect ratio. The tighter framing enhances Sinatra and Novak's performances. The making-of featurette Shoot Up / Shoot Out covers the film's controversy in a suitably nervous, graphics-heavy style. Biographer Foster Hirsch participates in the interviews, adding a number of important observations to the film's fascinating history. An original trailer is included as well. For more information about The Man With the Golden Arm, visit Warner Video. To order The Man With the Golden Arm, go to TCM Shopping by Glenn Erickson

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)


Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82.

Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.

Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).

Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.

After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).

His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)

Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82. Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer. Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954). Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music. After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969). His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Marlon Brando was offered the role of Frankie Machine, but Frank Sinatra jumped at the opportunity and was signed before Brando could accept.

The Motion Picture Association of America refused to issue a seal for this movie because it shows drug addiction. The next year the production code was changed to allow movies to deal with drugs, kidnapping, abortion and prostitution.

Except for a few exteriors on the RKO backlot, the entire movie was shot on a soundstage

Notes

The film's opening title credits, designed by Saul Bass, feature white lines breaking up a black background. The lines form a crooked arm over the last credit, that of producer-director Otto Preminger. The crooked arm became the film's symbol and was used extensively in its advertising. According to a November 3, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, the screen rights to Nelson Algren's best-selling novel, which was the first book to win the National Book Award, were purchased by producer Bob Roberts as a starring vehicle for John Garfield. Information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that Paul Trivers was to write the screenplay for Roberts, with Robert Aldrich scheduled to direct. Roberts first submitted a screenplay to the PCA in February 1950, and in March 1950, was told by PCA director Joseph I. Breen that the basic story was "unacceptable under the provisions of the Production Code" because of the Code's prohibition against showing drug addiction and illegal drug traffic. Breen further stated: "In view of the fact that this dope addiction problem is basic to this story, we suggest you dismiss any further consideration of this material for a motion picture to be made within the Code."
       Roberts continued to consult with the PCA in hopes of preparing an acceptable script, but was repeatedly discouraged by the Breen office, which warned him that not only would the subject fail to receive PCA approval, it would also receive condemnation from the National Catholic Legion of Decency, the U.S. Treasury Dept., the Bureau of Narcotics and "state and municipal censor boards, both in this country and abroad." In late March 1950, Pandro S. Berman, then a producer at M-G-M, expressed interest in making a film based on the novel, and was also told by the PCA that it would be impossible for the picture to receive a Production Code seal, without which many movie theaters of the time refused to exhibit films.
       According to modern sources, Roberts was acting on Garfield's behalf in purchasing the book's screen rights from Algren, who purportedly thought that Garfield would be ideal to play "Frankie Machine," and Garfield himself owned the rights. Garfield, who had been under great strain due to questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee, died of a heart attack on May 21, 1952. Although Trivers and Algren himself worked on a screenplay for Garfield's project, it is unlikely that they contributed to the Preminger film. In March 1955, New York Times and Hollywood Reporter reported that Preminger had purchased the rights to Algren's book from Garfield's estate and entered into a deal with United Artists to produce and distribute The Man with the Golden Arm. According to a September 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, a clause in the contract between Preminger and UA allowed UA to withdraw from distribution if the film did not receive a Code seal. At that time, Preminger, who had produced and directed The Moon Is Blue, which failed to obtain a Code seal prior to its 1953 release, indicated that he would set up his own company to distribute The Man with the Golden Arm if necessary.
       A March 24, 1955 Los Angeles Examiner news item reported that Preminger was hoping to persuade William Holden to star in the picture, while modern sources add that Marlon Brando was considered for the role of Frankie. According to July 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items, Barbara Bel-Geddes was under consideration for one of the female leads, but her participation in the project was contingent upon her being able to obtain a four-week leave from her role in the stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In August 1955, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Preminger was "torn" between casting either Ray Middleton or Raymond Burr as "Zero Schwiefka." Eleanor Parker was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, and Kim Novak was borrowed from Columbia. Hollywood Reporter news items include Arvle Miller, Jay Lawrence, Robert Paquin, Diane DeLayne, Ursula Fimbers, Libby Jones, Bene Marten, Jack Mulhall, Mahin Shahriver and David White, Frank Sinatra's stand-in, in the cast, although their appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed.
       In August 1955, Hollywood Reporter noted that Preminger had contemplated shooting the picture in color and CinemaScope, but decided that black-and-white with a 1.85:1 ratio would be "more suitable." According to a August 29, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, background footage was shot on location in Chicago, IL. A October 4, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the dog "Rumdum" was played by "Mike," a dog rescued from a pound by noted animal trainers Frank and Rudd Weatherwax. Hollywood Reporter news items and the film's pressbook noted that drummer Shelly Manne taught Sinatra how to play drums; magician Charles E. Miller served as the technical advisor on the poker sequences; Tom Bailey, a retired Los Angeles police officer, was the technical advisor on the jail scenes; Jack Entratter, a director of the Sands casino in Las Vegas, acted as a technical advisor; and an unnamed physician supervised narcotics sequences.
       Although the drug to which Frankie is addicted is never specified in the finished movie, most contemporary and modern sources assume that it is heroin. In the book, however, Frankie takes morphine, to which he became addicted during his military service in World War II. After being wounded while fighting in the South Pacific, Frankie began taking morphine and became addicted. In the film, only a very brief mention is made of Frankie's wartime service, and no connection is made between it and his addiction. Other notable differences between the novel and the movie are that in the book, Frankie, not "Zosh," kills Louie, and Zosh is not feigning her paralysis, although it is partially psychosomatic. At the end of the book, Zosh is committed to an insane asylum, "Molly Novotny" is arrested by the police for harboring Frankie and Frankie, who has run from Molly's apartment, commits suicide by hanging himself in a flophouse.
       Preminger continued to have problems with the PCA throughout the film's production, and he decided to release The Man with the Golden Arm without a Code seal. According to November 1955 trade paper and New York Times news items, after viewing a rough cut of the picture, United Artists, which had also released The Moon Is Blue, decided to release The Man with the Golden Arm, even though the action could result in the company being fined $25,000 by the MPAA. UA president Arthur Krim called the film "one of the most important productions ever handled by the company" and expressed the hope that the PCA would reverse its decision because of the film's "immense potential for public service." A modern source states that UA invested $1,000,000 in the film's production. A November 13, 1955 New York Times article reported that the film's release would mark "the first time that a company has made public its intention to go forward with the release of a controversial picture in advance of its submission for a Code seal." The film also received several advance bookings in November and early December 1955, before the issue of the Code seal had been settled.
       Although numerous contemporary sources speculated that the PCA would make an exception for The Man with the Golden Arm, after the film was submitted for final approval in early December 1955, the PCA denied it a Code seal. Their decision was upheld by the appeals board of the MPAA on December 6, 1955 in a meeting in which the MPAA board also declined to revise PCA guidelines governing the depiction of drug use. In order to protest the censorship battle, UA resigned from the MPAA on December 7, 1956, although the company rejoined later in the 1950s. Even though the PCA refused to approve the film, the influential National Catholic Legion of Decency awarded it a "B," or "morally objectionable in part for all," rating. According to a December 31, 1955 Harrrison's Reports news item, The Man with the Golden Arm marked the first time that the Legion did not give a "C," or condemned, rating to a film not passed by the PCA. Several contemporary sources indicate that the schism between the Legion and PCA was one of the contributing factors to the revision of the Code.
       Controversy over the MPAA's decision to uphold the PCA's ban on the film forced MPAA president Eric Johnston to launch a four-man committee to investigate Production Code provisions and methods of appeal in January 1956. A January 25, 1956 New York Times article about the investigation noted that one of the major reasons for the need to revise the Production Code was the "refusal, for the first time, of the Loew's theatres and other large circuits to abide by a Production ban." Loew's and other large theater chains were then exhibiting The Man with the Golden Arm despite its lack of a Code seal. In December 1956, New York Times announced that the committee's recommendation to change several provisions of the Production Code had been accepted, and that "the film industry has revised and relaxed its code of morals and taboos for the first time since the code was adopted in 1930." In addition to revising restrictions about the portrayals of prostitution, abortion, kidnapping and miscegenation, the MPAA eliminated the absolute prohibition of subjects having to do with narcotics. The first film to benefit from the PCA's revisions about the depiction of drug addiction was the 1957 Twentieth Century-Fox release A Hatful of Rain.
       The Man with the Golden Arm received mostly laudatory reviews upon its release, with many critics commenting on its success in dealing with the controversial subject matter. The Variety reviewer declared: "Fortunately this is a gripping, fascinating film, expertly produced and directed by Preminger and performed with marked conviction by Frank Sinatra as the drug slave." In conclusion, the Variety critic stated: "It makes for a powerful condemnation of the use of narcotics merciless in its display of the cruelties of the habit. This is the kind of message that should be spread, not suppressed." Several critics did complain about the film's contrived happy ending, however, stating that it was both inaccurate and potentially harmful to show an addict recovering completely in such a short time period.
       As noted by New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther, in order to satisfy censor requirements, the sequence in which Frankie receives a "fix" from "Louie" was shortened, to prevent the details of Louie's preparations of the drug from being shown. Crowther concluded, "either way, what you see or what you don't see is not likely to create anything-outside of the hardened addicts-but a revulsion toward the habit of drugs." According to a December 14, 1955 Daily Variety news item, the short sequence was deleted at the insistence of the New York State Censor Board, although Preminger deleted the footage from all prints of the film, not just those shown in New York.
       In February 1956, Hollywood Reporter noted that censors in Maryland, Atlanta, GA and Milwaukee, WI threatened either to ban the film outright or demand cuts, but that Preminger was determined to fight them and allow the film to be shown in the same version that was then being distributed. In July 1956, Variety reported that after several court decisions in its favor, United Artists was able to exhibit the film uncut throughout the world except in Spain, which had banned the picture. According to the news item, Spanish officials declared that they did not want the film to "give the people ideas" about narcotics use. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection, the film received an "X" rating in Great Britain, which restricted admission to adults only.
       Even though Preminger claimed in several contemporary sources that the MPAA was exerting pressure on exhibitors not to play the film, UA stated in a February 12, 1961 New York Times article that the film had been a "spectacular" success at the box office. The article concluded that the film's achievements were partially due to the "considerable publicity" surrounding its censorship battles. The Man with the Golden Arm received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction (Black and White) and Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) and a BAFTA nomination for Best Film from Any Source. The film's score, which was Elmer Bernstein's first jazz score, became a best-selling soundtrack record and is considered by many sources to be one of the most important film scores of the 1950s. The McGuire Sisters released a vocal version of the distinctive main theme, called "Delilah Jones," with lyrics by Sylvia Fine. A title song, written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, was recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., and their "Molly-O" was recorded by The Gaylords and The Naturals. According to a November 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Sinatra himself was to record a version of the title song for Capitol Records. A Sinatra discography notes that Sinatra's version of the song was never officially released, but did appear on a bootleg album entitled "On the Town and Others."
       Sinatra, who received many positive reviews for his work in the film, was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award as well as a Best Foreign Actor BAFTA award. The Saturday Review (of Literature) critic stated that Sinatra gave "a truly virtuoso performance," and Hollywood Reporter reviewer Jack Moffit proclaimed that he achieved "a tortured realistic masterpiece as the drug addict." According to several biographies of Sinatra, the actor considered his performance in The Man with the Golden Arm to be his finest work.
       According to November 1955 Daily Variety and New York Times reports, screenwriter Walter Newman protested the joint credit that he and writer Lewis Meltzer were to receive, claiming that he alone should be credited with the film's screenplay. After the Writers Guild of America (WGA) denied his petition, Newman attempted to take his case to Los Angeles Superior Court, a first in WGA history. Newman's attempt was denied by Judge Arnold Prager, according to the New York Times article. In mid-December 1955, Daily Variety reported that the Screen Writers Branch of the WGA protested the print advertising of The Man with the Golden Arm, stating that the overly prominent emphasis on Preminger in the ads mistakenly led people to believe that he wrote as well as directed and produced the picture.
       In April 1956, Algren filed a lawsuit against Preminger, UA, Carlyle Productions and several other individuals and companies, according to a April 24, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item. Algren asked that profits from the picture be held in trust and that the profits from the distribution of the theme song be accounted for and held in trust, in addition to asking for an injuction "restraining Preminger, UA and others from `passing off' the plaintiff's work as that of Preminger." According to Algren's lawsuit, the agreement under which he had sold the screen rights to Roberts stipulated that he would receive a percentage of the film's profits or a percentage of Roberts' profits if he sold the rights, but the agreement had not been upheld. Algren also claimed that the title song was "not up to the literary and artistic standards set by the novel," according to a May 1956 Saturday Review (of Literature) article. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
       As reported by various contemporary sources, the film was granted a Production Code seal on June 14, 1961. According to a July 31, 1961 New York Times article, UA applied for the seal in order to re-issue the film, along with The Moon Is Blue, which was also granted a seal, and to sell it for television broadcast. In January 1965, Preminger contracted with Allied Artists for The Man with the Golden Arm and The Moon Is Blue to be re-released theatrically as a double bill. [A July 1980 New York Times article confirmed that the rights to both films had reverted to Preminger in 1965.] In December 1966, Preminger leased television broadcast rights to The Man with the Golden Arm to ABC. The network was to be allowed to show the film twice during the following two years, according to a December 28, 1966 New York Times article, and Preminger had obtained the previously unheard-of concessions that the film was to be shown uncut in any way, and that he himself would be allowed to decide where the seven commercial breaks would be inserted. An January 18, 1967 Variety item reported that Sinatra would receive a percentage of the fee Preminger received for the broadcast rights. Although a July 1986 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Preminger was agreeing to allow Hal Roach Studios to colorize the picture, along with three other of his works, the colorization was never completed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video July 13, 1994

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States February 4, 1998

Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival Januray 29 - February 4, 1998.

Based on the novel "The Man With the Golden Arm" by Nelson Algren; published in 1949.

Released in United States Winter January 1956

Released in United States on Video July 13, 1994

Released in United States 1998 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "A Salute to Sinatra" August 21 - September 8, 1998.)

Released in United States February 4, 1998 (Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival Januray 29 - February 4, 1998.)

Released in United States Winter January 1956