Cinema: The New Pictures, Dec. 26, 1955

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The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger; United Artists). All that glitters is not necessarily tin foil. In this picture the moviegoer is offered the prospect of a hoppy ending, in which the hero gets the heroin. The Johnston office, standing to the Production Code ("The illegal drug traffic and drug addiction must never be presented"), has stamped its official nix on the picture—the sort of thundering knock that usually brings a lightning boost at the box office. On the screen, however, the picture provides much more than the cheap thrill it promises. The hero is a man who gets lost on the West Side of Chicago and does not bother to go looking for himself. The script, mild enough in comparison with Nelson Algren's cruel, powerful novel (TIME, Sept. 2, 1949) on which it is based, has nevertheless the crudeness of a thing scraped off some metropolitan sidewalk. But it has a human splendor, too—as the story of what happens to a man who cannot bear to let life itself happen to him.

Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) is the dealer for Schwiefka's poker game, and a very good dealer he is, with "an arm of pure gold," an eye like an ice pick, and a nylon line that pays out smooth and hauls the suckers in. But Frankie is a man who carries "a 40-lb. monkey on [his] back," and the only way to knock the monkey off is to get a shot of joy in the main vein. He kicks the habit when he does a stretch in stir, and swears off cards, too, when he comes out; he has learned the drums in prison, and he has a chance to try out with a commercial band. But Schwiefka (Robert Strauss) is not letting go, and neither is Frankie's wife (Eleanor Parker), a demented leech who is systematically eating his heart out. While the wife bleeds him white, Schwiefka sets up a frame. Frankie finds himself in jail on a bum rap. In return for one night in the dealer's slot, Schwiefka bails him out. Frightened and discouraged, Frankie is an easy mark for the needle of Louie, the dope peddler (Darren McGavin), who suggests that just one little fix is all he needs to get him round the bend. One fix leads to another, and another to another, until one day he is sitting in a cheap hotel with a price on his head and nothing to stop the pain of being alive. He begs a blonde tramp (Kim Novak) who loves him to get him just one fix. She refuses and pleads with him to give it up. He says he can't. It's easier to roll all the pain up into one big ball and then kill it with a needle.

This, and not the hypo of sensationalism, is the point of the movie, and the point strikes deep. The picture is sometimes a penny dreadful, because the scriptwriters have seldom consulted their hearts as carefully as they have calculated their effects; and sometimes it is an oldfashioned, hellfire sermon against moral indolence. At its best, though, the story lays bare the naked truth of human bondage, and this truth shines like a sword.

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