It was a strange coincidence that I watched Guys and Dolls (1955) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1956) back-to-back. Guys and Dolls is a musical about a gambler who gambles with love and stars Marlon Brando. Frank Sinatra co-stars as an illegal crap game organizer. Sinatra had been vying for the title role of Sky Masterson and lost out to Brando. Brando does most of the singing, which seems a utter shame given Sinatra's God-given talent. But Sinatra gave Brando his comeuppance the following year when he quickly snagged the role of Frankie Machine in The Man with the Golden Arm away from Brando, who was the first choice for the film. Sinatra steps out of his realm and does an amazing job as a dealer, finally clean from his heroin-addiction, trying to get his life back on track by becoming a drummer and staying away from drugs and cards. But his old life, and the people in it, keep getting in his way.
As I've said before, I absolutely love it when actors step out of their comfort zones and do something completely different. While it didn't work so much for Brando, it definitely worked for Sinatra. This is one of the best films I have ever seen and it has much to do with Sinatra's performance (which I'm sure Otto Preminger had a hand in).
I decided, instead of gushing on and on about this film, that I would keep it short. I'll give you 5 reasons to watch this film.
1) Frank Sinatra's astounding performance. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for this film.
2) The opposition between motherly yet sizzling hot Molly (Kim Novak) and the pathetic and conniving Zosh (Eleanor Parker). They play off each other very well even though they don't share very many scenes.
3) The musical score by Elmer Bernstein. I hardly ever notice music, but I did with this film. The music interacts with the motions of the scenes. Beautiful.
4) Otto Preminger's direction and Sam Leavitt's cinematography. Everything just falls into place.
5) Saul Bass' title sequence art. It's beautiful. He's well known for the title sequences in numerous Preminger and Hitchcock films. For Man with the Golden Arm, Bass created a minimalist black background cut by moving white bars. It's beautiful for its simplicity. See below. (thanks to Frank & Kevin for their help on this!)