Take 3: The Man with the Golden Arm Review

On my Movie Recommendations board on Pinterest, I have 107 films listed. The Man with the Golden Arm is one of those films. Maddy, from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, recommended the 1955 movie to me years ago. With all my movie recommendations, I try to find the perfect opportunity to review them, as a way to show respect to the people who suggested those movies. When the Kim Novak Blogathon was announced, I immediately went to my aforementioned Pinterest board, to see if any of Kim’s films were on there. Sure enough, I came across the poster for The Man with the Golden Arm! This is not the first time I’ve reviewed one of Kim’s films. Back in 2019, I wrote about the 1954 title, Phffft, a movie I thought was just ok. How will the 1955 film compare to Phffft? The only way to find out to keep reading my review!

The Man with the Golden Arm poster created by Carlyle Productions and United Artists

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Because Kim Novak is one of the reasons why I’m reviewing this movie, I’ll talk about her performance first. Portraying Frankie’s lover, Molly, Kim adopted a different persona from her role in Phffft. In The Man with the Golden Arm, she traded flirty for headstrong! Molly is a woman who knows what she wants and finds a way to get it. One of these things is for Frankie to get clean. She says it likes it is by telling Frankie what he needs to hear instead of what he wants to hear. Whenever this happens, Kim uses a tone of voice that is stern enough to be taken seriously. Her approach to emotions in The Man with the Golden Arm is more subtle. However, Kim’s facial expressions and body language perfectly showed the audience what was on her character’s mind. While working at a nightclub, Molly is disappointed by Frankie’s lateness. Her eyes are more downcast, like she doesn’t want Frankie to see her disappointment. Also, her face carries a serious expression, as if she’s tired of being let down.

Most of Kim’s scenes show Molly interacting with Frankie. These scenes presented an on-screen chemistry between Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra I liked seeing! This on-screen chemistry was a strong friendship where both parties seemed to have a deep understanding for one another. It kind of reminded me of the on-screen chemistry between Mercedes Ruehl and Jamey Sheridan in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, The Lost Child. While we’re on the subject of Frank Sinatra, let me talk about his performance next! The Man with the Golden Arm is the seventh movie of Frank’s I’m reviewing. In the previous six, he carries this suave charisma that presents an illusion of his character having an effortless existence. While his character, Frankie, does have charisma, it is toned down. What overshadows it is a persona that is more downtrodden and beaten. This makes sense for this particular story, as Frankie is attempting to overcome a drug addiction. Despite the change in acting material, Frank effortlessly pulls it off! His performance was versatile, allowing Frank to adapt to whatever his character faced. His performance was also consistent.

Another consistent performance came from Eleanor Parker! Prior to watching this movie, I had seen and reviewed Interrupted Melody. In that review, I said Eleanor’s portrayal of Marjorie Lawrence was emotional. I can also say that about her portrayal of Zosh, but for different reasons. Zosh is a woman who became paralyzed due to a car accident. While she also wants to see Frankie get clean, she has her own reasons why. Because of the emotionality Eleanor possesses, her portrayal of Zosh caused a ripple affect among the characters. The best example of Eleanor’s emotionality can be seen when Frankie returns from rehab. As their interaction carries on, Eleanor’s demeanor changes over time. It starts with Zosh being excited about Frankie’s return, then leads to concern and frustration over his and her future. Zosh’s reactions ripple through Frankie, presenting some obstacles on his journey to recovery.

Showing the negative effects of drug use: The subject of drug use/drug addictions is one that requires a certain amount of seriousness. Not only is that seriousness found within the story of The Man with the Golden Arm, but it can also be seen in Frank’s performance. When Frankie experiences a relapse, his right hand shakes. Shortly before he relapses, his pupils change in size. Frankie’s attitude changes to agitation, as he attempts to get the “monkey” of his back. He even becomes desperate to appease this “monkey”, putting himself, Zosh, and Molly in danger. Besides being referred to as a “monkey”, Frankie’s addiction is also compared to sugar by a member of the card dealing world. He tells Frankie giving up the addiction is like giving up sugar for the rest of his life, giving Frankie the illusion he can quit whenever he wants. However, these words cause more harm than good. It was interesting to hear the characters in this film talk about drug addictions in a more open sense. The Man with the Golden Arm was released in 1955, a time when drug addictions/drug use wasn’t talked about as openly as today. Therefore, this subject’s inclusion in the script felt ahead of its time.

The use of music: Throughout The Man with the Golden Arm, I noticed how music was used to elaborate on a scene’s particular tone. The music also built up to a tense filled moment. A great example is when Frankie relapses. While on his way to consume drugs, an orchestral tune can be quietly heard in the background. When he gets closer to his destination, the background music gets louder, stopping once Frankie gets what he wants. This specific tune plays every time Frankie relapses, serving as an indicator to the audience what’s to come. A big band tune could be heard when Frankie is looking for Molly later in the film. This tune highlighted Frankie’s urgency to find Molly. It also reflected Frankie’s musical desires and Molly’s place of employment. The use of music I described in this paragraph shows the cleverness incorporated into the movie!

The Kim Novak Blogathon banner created by Classic Movie Muse from The Classic Movie Muse

What I didn’t like about the film:

The underutilization of Kim Novak: Earlier in this review, I talked about how I enjoyed watching Kim’s performance. While I still stand by this statement, I feel her talents were underutilized. Kim appeared in a handful of scenes. Even though she was cast as a main supporting actress and she was one of the few actresses in the film, I was disappointed by how limited Kim’s on-screen appearances were. The Man with the Golden Arm is Frankie’s story, as he is the titular character. Therefore, I knew Frank Sinatra’s character would be focused on the most in this movie. But Eleanor Parker had much more screen time than Kim did. If you’re planning on watching this film specifically for Kim’s performance, like I did, you may be a bit let down.

Too many plots: The Man with the Golden Arm contained five plots, each having something important to say. Because there was no distinction of focus between these plots, they ended up spending the movie’s run-time competing against one another. The competition among the five plots caused them to be resolved in an unsatisfactory way or too conveniently. One example involves a secret Zosh carries throughout the story. This secret will not be shared in this review, in an effort to prevent the film from being spoiled. But when the secret is revealed to the rest of the characters, the timing of this reveal feels presented simply to tie up loose ends. Had some of these plots either been written out or relegated to subplot status, maybe Zosh’s secret would have been revealed sooner.

Limited inclusion of musical talents: I don’t believe there is an unspoken rule that Frank Sinatra has to sing and/or have a musical number whenever he stars in a film. But I do feel there was a missed musical opportunity in The Man with the Golden Arm. At the beginning of the movie, Frankie shares how, while in rehab, he learned how to play the drums. He even plans on joining a band. After these words were spoken, I was so excited to see Frank step out of his comfort zone and try his hand at playing an instrument that may have been new to him. But as the story progressed, Frank was shown playing the drums for a handful of seconds. In one of these scenes, it seemed like Frank was playing the drums alongside the radio, which made it difficult to discern what sounds truly came from the radio. The other two scenes presented a force that prevented me from seeing Frank perform a full drum solo.  That excitement I felt toward the beginning of the movie slowing but surely fizzled.

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My overall impression:

Throughout my years of movie blogging, I have seen films that tried to say so much, but ended up saying so little. The Man with the Golden Arm is one of those films. I recognize the important messages the creative team wanted to share with the audience. But because the movie had five plots, these messages did not have a strong delivery. I can, however, commend the production for addressing a serious issue in a time when that issue was not openly talked about. The strong acting performances and use of music can be acknowledged as well. Kim Novak’s performance was one of the strongest in this film. So, it was disappointing to see Kim receive a limited amount of screen-time, especially since she was one of the reasons why I chose to watch this movie. In the future, I want to seek out Kim’s other film work. I’d also like to watch Frank’s and Eleanor’s other work too.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Have you seen any of Kim Novak’s films? If so, which one would you recommend I review next? Tell me in the comment section below!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

11 thoughts on “Take 3: The Man with the Golden Arm Review

  1. Pingback: Welcome to The Kim Novak Blogathon: An 89th Birthday Celebration!! – The Classic Movie Muse

  2. Great to read your thoughts on this film, Sally! I agree with you that both Kim and Frank gave strong performances and had lovely chemistry throughout the film. So glad you highlighted Elmer Bernstein’s score too. It definitely was used wonderfully and cleverly as a story telling element, as you’ve pointed out. Thank you for contributing this fine review to my blogathon, Sally! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a shame that Kim wasn’t given more to do in this film, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts about it and her performance. I’d say her best movies are Bell Book & Candle, and Vertigo, if you are in the mood for something Hitchcockian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for checking out my review, Rebecca! That wearing out feeling is likely the result of the film containing five plots. Though each one was important, there should have been a distinction of focus between them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this well-balanced review! I saw that film once, also for a blogathon, and loved it. The performances definitely contributed to that. Frank Sinatra was fantastic and it’s the film that made me like Kim Novak more than I used to.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t seen Man with the Golden Arm in a long, long time, so I can’t really agree/disagree with your reaction to the movie. I do remember liking Sinatra’s performance and the music score. And yes, I thought Novak was wasted in a supporting role.

    Liked by 1 person

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