Melbourne Cinematheque Review: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM Lingers

Welcome back to my ongoing coverage of the Melbourne Cinematheque's fantastic program for 2013. Here I will be reviewing the first film per season (month).

This month I took a look at The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), from the inescapable societal visionary Otto Preminger. For the month of April I introduced one of Godard's films in the program, which can be found here. I hope you saw something from this season!

Running from April 24 to May 8, Preminger's retrospective of films shine through particularly troubled times, but do so with a unique style of objectivity and ambiguity that only Preminger can deliver. Preminger's lucid style is hypnotic in his distinct gaze of the issues he presents of the human condition.

The program is thus composed of the April 24th double feature Carmen Jones (1954) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), the May 1 double-bill is the sizzling noir Laura (1944) and Advise & Consent (1962), and finally on May 8 comes Cinema: De Notre Temps (2012), a biography on Preminger, and Anatomy of a Murder (1959), arguably his most distinguished work.

The Man with the Golden Arm is special because it was one of the first movies to tackle drug addiction; it was released without the production code seal of approval. Frank Sinatra plays Frankie, a jazz musician and strung-out heroin addict on the mend, constantly dragged down into the depths by those around him, including card sharks and his crippled wife. This is as hard-boiled as films come, Sinatra gives such a heavy performance and it is sometimes hard to watch; a testament to the constant tragedies and misfortune around him.

The setting is Chicago and the 1950s but it feels timeless, the main issue in the film could happen anywhere to anyone, and still does. The dirty surroundings do help aid Frankie's miserable plight, however. As does his wife, played by Kim Novak, who is incredibly manipulative towards him, hiding a foul secret. At times the scriptwriter seems to use Frankie as target practice, slinging every woe his way as an excuse to use the junk again, but regardless of this manipulation, I genuinely felt awful watching this film; it dug deep into my psyche, perhaps more so than Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000) did. The film is also strongly bolstered by the magnanimous score by Elmer Bernstein; it seems to bring an invisible menace to life, always stalking Frankie.

Ultimately, The Man with the Golden Arm is a social melodrama, but the film brings out genuine feelings of terrible discomfort and elevates above its over-the-top script. Preminger stated that there's an inherent tragedy in any human being who gets hooked on something, and in The Man with the Golden Arm has brazenly shown this tragedy with an unflinching eye.

Please check the Melbourne Cinematheque guide for a more detailed account of the films comprising Preminger's marvelous season. I will return in late May for 'Elio Petri: A Filmmaker Above Suspicion' and the bizarre dystopia of The Tenth Victim (1965). See you then.

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