Monday, March 18, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) ***½

NR, 119 min.
Director: Otto Preminger
Writers: Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer, Nelson Algren (novel)
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, John Conte, Doro Merande

“The Man with the Golden Arm” is often cited as Frank Sinatra’s best acting, and one of his best films. It was a passion project for the crooner turned actor. Watching it, I couldn’t help thinking about Justin Timberlake. I can’t think of another artist whose trajectory is more like Sinatra’s. Like Sinatra, Timberlake made his name in pop music, I’m sure Sinatra got much more credit for his voice in his rise to stardom than Timberlake, although after going solo, Timberlake proved himself a master of the medium that brought him his fame. Again like Sinatra, Timberlake wasn’t satisfied being identified with just one artistic discipline. Both moved into acting starting with the roles people would accept them in and building to award worthy performances. Like Sinatra, Timberlake hasn’t forgotten where his fame came from and hasn’t abandoned any of the roads that took him to where he finds himself today.

Hopefully one day, Timberlake will find a role that he has as much passion for as Sinatra had to play the hero junkie in “The Man with the Golden Arm”. Timberlake’s award-worthy dramatic turn in “The Social Network” is akin to Sinatra’s Oscar-winning supporting role in “From Here to Eternity”. Surely, there will be a role like this one in Timberlake’s future.

The plot of “The Man with the Golden Arm” must’ve been a tricky one to sell to studio bosses at the time. The all-powerful Motion Pictures Production Code was set against any depiction of drug use in movies. Director Otto Preminger opted to release this film without going through the ratings code and its success is often sited as an early crucial strike against the Hays Code.

It was brave for a star of Sinatra’s stature to present himself as a man of such weakness as he does here. The film also boasts unusually powerful female characters. Sinatra’s manipulative wife, played by Eleanor Parker, was an unprecedented female villain of sorts. Kim Novak, in her first starring role, has more strength and independence than any of the male characters. I also like the work of a young Darren McGavin here as the pusher. McGavin has become known to my generation as an endearing father character from the holiday film “A Christmas Story”. It’s always fun to see the depths of an actor you’ve come to know in another light.

It was Sinatra, though, who was really sticking his neck out for this movie, and he was awarded with a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his efforts. He became know as one of the more difficult actors to work with in the industry, which is something I don’t see happening with Timberlake; but Sinatra was far from just a crooner. This film is proof of that.

Watch the full movie below.

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