The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger / U.S., 1955):

Saul Bassís credits sequence, with its jagged slates and jazzy Elmer Bernstein Mickey-Mousing, tells you whoís in charge. Frank Sinatraís arrival by bus in his old neighborhood would be reworked by Minnelli in Some Came Running, here Otto Preminger paints it in two splendid brushstrokes: A sweeping track that follows the protagonist past pool halls and pawn shops, and a shot from inside the saloon which frames Sinatra against the window with neon letters ("BEER") reversed on the glass. The golden arm shines at card-dealing until the heroin-shooting takes its toll; Frankie returns from rehab and tries to use it now for big-band drumming, but, as the dandified pusher (Darren McGavin) puts it, "the monkey never dies. When you kick him off he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn." The fluid contemplation of studio sets combined with the avid gallery out of Damon Runyon suggests a conscious transmutation of German Neue Sachlichkeit to American Lower Depths. Premingerís Joyless Street of hustlers, peddlers and barflies has room for Arnold Stangís tortoisy comic-relief, McGavinís malignant urbanity, Robert Straussís cigar-chewing truculence, and Eleanor Parkerís full-bodied neuroses. Above all, it has Sinatraís hepcat confidence as a building to be quaked. "Whatís it a sign of when a dealerís hands begin to shake?" The idealized 1950s is a family of mannequins on a window display, real warmth is in the burlesque house, where one of the hostesses (Kim Novak) commiserates with the ex-junkie. "Was it bad?" He hesitates, kisses her hand. "Not too bad." Long takes contribute to Premingerís merciless scrutiny, chipping away at his superstar -- a floating poker game stretching into early morning, a breakdown before an audition, Sinatraís cold-turkey agonies in a locked room, pacing, quivering, contorting. Famous for its censor-defying subject, but far more interesting as a transitional item in the directorís path from noir impressionist to big-issue wrangler. Cinematography by Sam Leavitt. With John Conte, George E. Stone, Doro Merande, George Matthews, Leonid Kinskey, and Emile Meyer. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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