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Otto Preminger
Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, John Conte, Doro Merande
Writing Credits:
Nelson Algren (novel), Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer

After six months of drug rehab, Frankie Machine returns to the seedy Chicago joints where he began and succumbs once more to the dark addictions of professional poker, and - even more dangerously - heroin.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $12.97
Release Date: 5/13/2008

• “Shoot Up, Shoot Out: The Story Behind The Man With the Golden Arm” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Man With The Golden Arm: Frank Sinatra Collection (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 9, 2008)

As time passes, I think that Frank Sinatra’s career as an actor recedes more and more into the background. While obviously Sinatra made his biggest mark as a singer, he also did well for himself as a thespian, so it’s good to get the occasional reminders of his work. Today’s example: 1955’s The Man With the Golden Arm, a flick for which Sinatra earned one of his two career Oscar nominations as an actor.

In Arm, Sinatra plays a small-time card dealer named Frankie Machine. After he got arrested, he had been in detox to kick a drug habit, He completes that program and returns to his old haunts, though he’s determined to stay clean and become a jazz drummer. This doesn’t last long, as concerns both professional and personal ensure a return to the needle. The film follows his attempts to get the monkey off his back and to work out a love triangle with wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker) and prior flame Molly (Kim Novak). Arm threatens to suffer from its dated qualities. Obviously, the movie’s then-daring examination of drug abuse doesn’t seem nearly as groundbreaking now. That doesn’t mean that Arm loses all punch, though, as it continues to provide a pretty compelling take on how drugs harm lives.

Much of the credit goes to Sinatra’s solid performance. I admire Sinatra’s willingness to challenge himself as an actor. He easily could’ve taken the Elvis path and simply made one light comedy/musical after another. However, Sinatra pushed himself and dared his audience to accept him in roles that lacked many redeeming qualities.

Not that Frankie Machine is a scumbucket, though. Indeed, in the film’s seedy world, he comes across as downright noble. We see him more as a victim of circumstances than a hardcore user and lowlife. It probably helps that director Otto Preminger gives Frankie’s setting such rough edges. He makes Frankie’s world a grim and unpleasant one, populated with a variety of menacing and sleazy characters. I suspect a lot of that aimed to make Frankie seem more likable and allow the audience to ignore his past as a criminal and a drug addict.

Within that environment, Sinatra brings out the charm in Frankie but doesn’t sugarcoat the character. I’m surprised to see how humble Sinatra seems. Given his extreme fame, I’d expect it to be nearly impossible for him to so readily submerge his ego. Frankie comes across as cocky at times, but even then, he seems more full of fake bluster than real bravado, and when circumstances bring him down, Sinatra allows us to see the character’s sad side.

I do wish that Preminger made the love triangle more interesting, though. The film sets up the contrast between Zosh and Molly in such a way that there’s no contest. On one hand, Molly comes across as warm, supportive and sophisticated; she’s clearly the best partner for Frankie.

And then there’s Zosh. From minute one, she comes across as one of the neediest, more annoying personalities committed to the screen. Parker’s over the top performance doesn’t help. Granted, Zosh is a flamboyant character in an insecure, histrionic way. She actually keeps “My Scrapbook of Fatal Accident” since she clearly adores the attention that her misery gains for her.

Still, I think Parker goes too far. She makes Zosh so relentlessly unlikable that we keep hoping she’ll get into another car wreck and put us out of our misery. Barring that, we just look forward to the hoped-for time when Frankie gives her the boot and sets up with Molly instead.

Despite that misstep, I find a lot to like about Arm. The movie’s depiction of the drug world can be dated, but enough truth remains to allow it to have an impact. This is an entertaining and involving melodrama.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C

The Man With the Golden Arm appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Various ups and downs accompanied this inconsistent transfer.

Most of the problems stemmed from source flaws. While I don’t expect a 53-year-old movie to look absolutely pristine, I’d like something cleaner than this one. The majority of the distractions came from specks, debris and marks, though some prominent vertical lines appeared as well; those were most noticeable during Frankie’s first scene with Zosh.

The prevalence of the print defects was a disappointment since the rest of the image looked quite good. Sharpness was consistently positive. Only a smidgen of softness ever interfered, as the majority of the movie was accurate and concise. I noticed no shimmering or jaggies, and I saw no edge enhancement. Blacks seemed deep and firm, while shadows showed nice clarity. Lose the source flaws and this would’ve been a terrific transfer. With those distractions, it ended up as a “C+” presentation.

The monaural soundtrack of Arm was respectable for its age. Speech showed a little thinness and sibilance but the lines remained intelligible and without edginess. Music lacked much range and could be a little shrill. The score was generally acceptable, though, and effects fell into the same range. Those elements appeared reasonably concise, and I noticed no background noise. This was an average mix.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the DVD includes a featurette entitled Shoot Up, Shoot Out: The Story Behind The Man With the Golden Arm. This 19-minute and 27-second piece provides the standard mix of movie clips, archival bits and interviews. We hear from film critic Peter Travers, director’s daughter Victoria Preminger, Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King author Foster Hirsch, USC film professor Drew Casper, UCLA film professors Jan-Christopher Horak and Jonathan Kuntz, composer’s son Peter Bernstein, opening credits designer Saul Bass, and columnist/Frank Sinatra’s friend James Bacon. The show looks at the novel and its adaptation for the screen, related controversies and innovations, the score and the opening credits, notes about director Otto Preminger, cast and performances, censorship battles, and the flick’s reception.

Most programs of this sort offer a fairly cheerful, sanitized look at their subjects. Happily, “Shoot” throws out a lot of warts with its praise. Sure, we learn of the flick’s influence and strengths, but we also hear what a tyrant Preminger was well as other problems. The two sides combine to create a short but good overview of the project.

Back in 2005, a “50th Anniversary Edition” of Arm hit the shelves. It presented a bunch of supplements that fail to repeat here. Why were they dropped for the “Frank Sinatra Collection” release? I don’t know, but the decision disappoints.

Groundbreaking for its era, The Man With the Golden Arm no longer shocks, but it still works. The film boasts a strong lead performance from Frank Sinatra and tells its tale well. The DVD gives us average picture, audio and extras. Nothing about this release impresses, but the movie itself is a success.

Note that you can buy this version of The Man With the Golden Arm on its own or as part of a five-movie package called “The Frank Sinatra Collection: The Golden Years”. This set also includes None But the Brave, Some Come Running, The Tender Trap, and Marriage On the Rocks. Purchased individually, each DVD retails for $12.97, but the “Golden Years” box comes for $39.92. That makes it a good deal for fans who want to own all five – or even just four – of the films.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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