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DVD: The Man with the Golden Arm | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Man with the Golden Arm

DVD: The Man with the Golden Arm

Frank Sinatra is tantalised by heroin in the film which changed American cinema

Frankie fixs up: Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine in Otto Preminger's 'The Man with the Golden Arm'

When The Man with the Golden Arm was released in British cinemas in January 1956, it was given an “X” certificate by the then British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), which excluded those under 16 from seeing it. Cuts were made to scenes showing the details of drug preparation to obtain that category, and it hit screens at 114 minutes. Some violence was excised, too. A 119-minute version was first seen on home video in 1992 with a “15” certificate.

Its last home video release in 2007 shared both the certification and the longer length. This sparkling new DVD restoration is also rated “15”, runs at 114 minutes and returns the film to what was originally seen.

Times change, and what is or isn’t acceptable changes too. But The Man with the Golden Arm is about more than a focus on drugs and, in context, it belongs amongst other such problematic mid-Fifties American films for the BBFC such as 1956’s Rock Around the Clock, 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause and 1954’s The Wild One, which was denied a certificate.

The Man with the Golden Arm Frank Sinatra Frankie Machine Kim Novak MollyIn America, The Man with the Golden Arm faced the brick wall of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Production Code which rejected any theme related to narcotics. The film was released, but its exhibition and the furore surrounding its emergence led to a change in the code allowing this previously forbidden subject matter to be depicted in film. The Man with the Golden Arm changed American cinema.

It must have been a frustrating film for younger fans of its lead actor Frank Sinatra, who was nominated for an Oscar in his role as Frankie Machine. Anyone aged less than 16 couldn’t see their idol without resorting to some sort of subterfuge. Sinatra’s Machine is a card dealer just released from jail; he’s now clean, but was a heroin addict before. While inside, he’d taken up drums and has a new ambition to join a jazz band. But returning to his low-life infested Chicago milieu brings him and drugs close again. He’s pitched into a dark world where he has to balance his wheelchair-confined wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker), who wants him to return to his old ways, and Molly (Kim Novak, pictured above right with Sinatra), the nightclub hostess who lives downstairs and stands by him.

The Otto Preminger-directed film is a classic, has a wonderful title sequence by Saul Bass and fabulous music by Elmer Bernstein – conducted by Shorty Rogers with Shelley Manne in his band, both of whom briefly appear. Seen now, it comes across as rather stagey, with the whole cast discernably “acting” or over-acting. At the halfway point, there's a shift in gear when the film become more active as the pace picks up after Machine’s situation has been established. Many alterations were made to Nelson Algren’s source novel in the transition to screen – what Preminger made is a noir-edged film in its own right. If this hasn’t been seen – the only extra on this release is a picture gallery – take the opportunity to do so now.

Overleaf: watch the theatrical trailer for The Man with the Golden Arm

Watch the theatrical trailer for The Man with the Golden Arm

In America, the film faced the brick wall of the MPAA's Production Code which rejected any theme related to narcotics


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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