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The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
In fact there exists such a myriad of styles and genres that this exact question is frustratingly limited. This question may just as well be do you prefer Love or Sex? UK or USA? Clean Hair or Slicked Hair? Quiet walks or Burning rubber? It is simply not a wide enough list of options.
Perhaps a fairer question would be “Are you a Mozart or a Sinatra or an Elvis or a Beatles or a Dylan or a Pistols or a Carpenters or a Hendrix or a Brown or Pistols or a Metallica or an NWA or a John Zorn man/woman/ transgender”?
This question is, of course, still pretty unfair. However it does allow for a more rounded answer.
Look over those names of musical legends again though and curiously enough, out of the list only one performer had a very successful second career within Hollywood- one Mr Frank Sinatra.
OK, OK, technically Elvis and Ice Cube both have a large back catalogue of appearances under their belts, with Ice Cube also an established Director. Bob Dylan and Sid Vicious have been in big releases, and without George Harrison there would be no Monty Python’s Life Of Brian.
However, out of these acts only Frank Sinatra had ongoing Cinema success over four decades, ranging from the 1941 to the 1984. In fact he even won an Oscar in 1953 as best Supporting Actor in From Here To Eternity. Yet it is a project that Sinatra followed that up Oscar win up with only two years later that is under the Hollyweird microscope today. In 1955, Sinatra starred in rather an unusual film about Heroin addiction called The Man With The Golden Arm.The The Man With The Golden Arm opens with a crackling score by Elmer Bernstein and a simple but distinctive title sequence by Saul Bass. Already the film has a classy feel despite its grimy topic matter.
Frankie Machine (Sinatra) is a skilled card dealer and one-time heroin addict. Released from a Prison that contains a ‘modern’ Rehabilitation Clinic, Frankie has fully kicked his heroin addiction.
Frankie arrives back in his home town, an unnamed borough of New York. Here Frankie meets up with his old friend Sparrow. Rather oddly for a man named after a bird, Sparrow has a con-business based around selling dogs but he also looks uncannily like a turtle. Try that one on for size, Dr Moreau!
Unfortunately whilst saying hello to Sparrow, Frankie also runs into two people he does not want to see again. These are his old drug dealer, Louis and also his old boss Schwiefka. Schwiefka ran an illegal card games where Frankie was an expert- but always honest- card dealer.
Louis immediately tries to tempt Frankie back onto the Junk, but Frankie cannot be tempted. Now a reformed man, Frankie wants nothing to do with either Louis dope or Schwiefka’s illegal card games.
Instead Frankie wants to become a musician. Against any assumptions of stunt casting if this were the characters attempt to become a Singer, Frankie instead intends to become a Session Drummer.
Whilst serving his time, Frankie became a smooth jazz-drummer as a part of his rehabilitation. He has even been set up with a prestigious job interview via his clinic.
Whenever the The Man With The Golden Arm shows Sinatra drumming it is in a medium close-ups. This is presumably so that the audience can see it really is Ol’ Blue Eyes playing the drum kit. Frank’s actually perfectly good at keeping a rhythm, which is all the more impressive since he is delivering his lines of dialogue at the same time. However, since he always plays the same para-diddle, it is hard to actually buy into him as some hotshot natural player that will be in much in demand in the New York scene..
Frankie aims to go straight so to be able to support himself and his crippled wife, Zosh. What Frankie does not know is that Zosh is not actually crippled at all!
Zosh only pretends to be paralysed in an effort to control every part of poor Frankie’s life. She has actually been healed for some time, but so far as the world is concerned she is wheelchair-bound within their apartment.
In fact, Zosh is so obsessed with Frankie that she has turned any sense of love into a twisted torment of him. She mocks him and shoots down his drumming ambitions so that he will never leave her. Frankie stays strong minded though, brushing off her comments he sorts out his big audition for a club band.
Through arranging the audition, Frankie also has a brush with his old flame Molly (Kim Novak). A spark is still there between them both, and coincidentally Molly lives in the same apartment block as Frankie and Zosh. However she now lives with an alcoholic and abusive husband of her own.
Throughout the film, Frankie and Molly’s share a mutual sympathy for their situations. It connects them even more to one another. This sets Frankie up under a lot of pressure as the joy he has with Molly parallels his unhappiness with Zosh. Still, Frankie feels that he can never leave Zosh without destroying her. I’m sure we’ve all been there, though possibly without drums and heroin. (Or possibly with- I’m not here to judge my readers).
Being that this film was shot I the Fifties, Frankie realises that he needs a good suit to seem a professional musician. Skinny jeans and Converse trainers wouldn’t do in those days, and I doubt even Frank could have pulled that look off.
Frankie asks his old friend Sparrow to help out. Sparrow, being a con man by trade, ends up with a stolen suit that he passes onto Frankie. Before he can even make the audition, Frankie is picked up by the police for the suspected theft of the suit and misses his interview.
Frankie former employer Schwiefka hears the news and offers to bail Frankie out of prison. At first Frankie baulks- he wants nothing to do with Schwiefka. But a few minutes spent in the company of a junkie within the holding cell Frankie realises that he’ll fall to pieces if he stays put. Unhappily he accepts Schwiefka’s offer. Unfortunately his debt to Schwiefka can only be paid off one way; return to becoming an expert card dealer at the illegal Poker games.
Soon Frankie is working all hours at card games, putting up with constant belittling from his wife and his suppressing own desire towards Molly. Over a various segments of the film this pressure builds and builds until Frankie cracks like Humpty Dumpty attempting a tightrope walk. Frankie gives in and heads to Louis’ to once more to get back onto Heroin.
This is perhaps the key scene in the entire movie. It shows just how unusual this role selection was for someone with Frank Sinatra’s reputation.
Sinatra was a beloved family entertainer. In an age before Rock ‘n’ Roll, he was someone for Grandparents, parents and children to all listen to together. He was also an established screen star with his Academy Award only two years previously. Then in this one sequence we see a sequence that plays against all the respect that Sinatra has built up in the real world.
Frankie is led limply back to Louis’ apartment. He is a silent, broken man who looks at the floor in defeat- a complete opposite to the optimistic charmer who first got off the bus straight from Rehabilitation.
Frankie eagerly rolls his sleeve up. The camera focuses on Louis as he delivers a monologue about how ‘the monkey can never be thrown off your back. It just waits’. Lois simultaneously fills a needle with the dope. The camera tracks along with Louis as he walks back over to Frankie/ Just as the needle is about to pierce Frankie’s vein, the camera pans straight into Frankie’s eyes and holds there. He squints as the needle hits home and Elmer Bernstein’s score kicks in at full blast. Frankie is once again a puppet.
Sadly, if anything this scene is actually a little too over the top due to the score. The squealing brass notes hammer the importance of the scene with the subtlety of a bullet to a baby’s head. Yet Sinatra’s wounded eyes still successfully tell the tale of a failed man in a rough world.
The rest of the movie concerns Frankie further descent into the abyss. In short, he agrees to fix a card game which is one thing he had formerly never agreed to do. After dealing all night, a tired Frankie is caught in the act by the gamblers and soon has to slap his way to safety. Yes, slap. Not punch. The Fifties must have been a strange time for bar fights.
Still, Frankie does not have time to dwell as he has managed to get one more chance at his coveted drumming audition. Now back on the junk but exhausted from the card-game mishap Frankie gives a terrible performance and blows his last chance at the job.
No longer able to deal cards or to become hired as a session drummer, and living in a loveless marriage Frankie is falling to pieces. He reaches enough of a low that Molly convinces him to go cold turkey. The rest of the movie features a beating, a murder, a suicide and a mixed-happy ending- but hey go watch it for yourself to learn more. It’s well worth a watch to viewers who like a snapshot of Film Noir-esque melodramas. Besides which the whole thing is on Youtube.
Directed by Otto Preminger, The Man With The Golden Arm is a simple, but claustrophobic, tale based on a novel. It plays as a tense character study within a small location and shot in Black and White. In fact if it wasn’t for several nice tracking shots, the film could almost seem to be a filmed-play. If the lack of variety of locations and the relatively simple plot sound like hinderer, they are not at all. In fact the simple plot and staging of The Man With The Golden Arm actually serve to enhance making the central character as the focus of the piece. So the movie actually works well for its simplicity. All of this is completely anchored by the competent cast and the superbly charismatic Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra has left a somewhat conflicted legacy. Read any biographies on the man and you will find him to be both incredibly loyal friend and liberal man, as well as somewhat of a vengeful bully. He was both angel and devil depending on how he regarded someone.
However in acting terms Sinatra has left behind quote a mighty sum. Clearly there remains his Academy Award winning performance in From Here To Eternity. Yet there is also his strong lead role in the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, and his starring inthe underrated and snappy Sixties detective film Tony Rome. Oh, and of course he and his Ratpack spearheaded the original Ocean’s Eleven. Not a bad body of work at all, but as if that was not enough for man whose second career was acting, Sinatra also combined his acting and singing to feature in two very highly regarded musicals; both On The Town and Guys & Dolls.
Beyond all that success though, to myself the cinema of Frank Sinatra will always hang on his risk taking thanks to his headlining of The Man With The Golden Arm.
Finally, let me add a final note about Mr. S. Frank’s final film was Cannonball Run II. It may not be a good film like the first one, but his actual cameo is easily the best part of it.
Thanks for reading.