Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You Otto See It: The Man With the Golden Arm

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!)


  1. Raquel,nice piece. I will definitely take your recommendation and watch this film.

  2. I hope you do Bob. And what better motivation than Kevin's upcoming lecture?

  3. I've blogged on this film as well, and I agree with your commments. But what did you think about the set? Some feel that this film should have been shot on location to give it a more realistic feel befitting the subject matter. I'm ambivalent about it and have no strong opinion either way, but I admit there are times when I almost sense the too-neat and orderly city street is reminiscent of "Sesame Street" urban planning. I half expect Big Bird to walk past the window of the bar.

  4. I haven't seen this one yet, but I'm actually not wild about Frank Sinatra the actor. I much prefer Frank the singer; I love his voice...but so far, his movies just haven't done it for me.

    Maybe I should watch this one and be converted. :)

  5. Jacqueline - I read your blog post. It was excellent. I love what you say about Frankie and the other characters being "everyman". So true.

    I'm very oblivious to things like set design and music. Unless it smacks me in the face, I'm usually like "duhurr". I love the Val Lewton films, but they are obvious re-use of set design, so I guess I'm also forgiving. But your comment about Sesame St. is hilarious!

    Ginger - I'm not crazy about Frank Sinatra either way. Although, I was very impressed with him in this film. You definitely "otto" see it. Even if its just for Kim Novak!

  6. I enjoy this movie more for its Elmer Bernstein score than for the story and this is the film that put Bernstein's jazz chops in the spotlight. He would later score Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Walk On the Wild Side (1962) using jazz arrangements.

    Frank's "withdrawl" scene is great and I recall being disturbed by it when I first saw the movie.

  7. Hi pacwarbuff,

    Yeah that withdrawl scene is quite intense. I felt like I was locked in that apartment with him!


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