We are so accustomed to seeing “everything” on film in the 21st century that it may be difficult to imagine the fight film director and producer Otto Preminger had to wage to get “The Man with the Golden Arm” to the screen. Released in 1955 and based on Nelson Algren’s National Book Award-winning novel, “The Man with the Golden Arm” broke ground in the depiction of drug addiction on the screen.
Frankie, a recovering addict (Frank Sinatra) returns from rehab to the same set of life problems: His wife (Eleanor Parker) is wheelchair-bound from a car accident he caused, the only work he can find is as a card dealer in a back alley poker game and his neighborhood drug connection (Darren McGavin) is constantly at his elbow encouraging Frankie to use again.
Frankie has two things going for him: an old flame, Molly (Kim Novak) and an audition playing drums in a big band. But are they enough to get him through the hard times?
Filmed in black and white with an awesome jazz score by Elmer Bernstein, “The Man with the Golden Arm” was one of the first films permitted to show the horrors of drug withdrawal and was successful in no small part because of Sinatra’s portrayal.
Sinatra lost out on his second Oscar nomination (after winning Best Supporting Actor the previous year for “From Here to Eternity.”) He was in good company in 1956. Losing out to Ernest Borgnine in “Marty” for the Best Actor nod along with Sinatra were James Dean, “East of Eden,” Spencer Tracy, “Bad Day at Black Rock” and James Cagney, “Love Me or Leave Me.” Henry Fonda, starring in “Mister Roberts,” was not nominated.
Director George Roy Hill started his career directing “Playhouse 90” for television. Maybe that’s where he mastered the art of the close-up. Then again, maybe he realized early on filming “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” he couldn’t go wrong with zooming in on two of cinema’s handsomest leading men — Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
The first of two film collaborations of Hill, Newman and Redford (the second being “The Sting”), “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a Western like no other. The duo more often than not charms their victims (usually at the bank or on a train), avoiding gunplay whenever possible. After the heat is turned up by a persistent posse that clings to their trail like dog hair on a good suit, the duo grabs the Kid’s girl, Etta, and heads south of the border — way south.
A tight script by William Goldman, a unique musical score by Burt Bacharach and expansive as well as intimate cinematography by Conrad Hall contribute to the telling of two outlaws who, in the end, try to go straight. Good guys or bad guys? Doesn’t matter. Butch and Sundance/Newman and Redford are fun to watch.
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was nominated for the Academy Award for “Best Picture” in 1970, but lost to “Midnight Cowboy.” Newman and Redford were not nominated. The “Best Actor” trophy was awarded to John Wayne for “True Grit.”
Gore Vidal was referring to our political leaders when he coined the phrase “United States of Amnesia” and then he extended the reference to include the press. Given that a nuclear disaster with worldwide ramifications occurred in Japan approximately four months ago and coverage by the media is nonexistent, Vidal may be on target.
In 1979, a much less dramatic nuclear incident happened at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania just three weeks after the theatrical release of “The China Syndrome.” Facts vs. entertainment will not be debated in this brief movie review, but it is interesting to note why more attention isn’t paid.
Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) reports on “light” news at a Southern California television station. Short of videographers, Wells asks freelancer Richard Adams (Michael Douglas) to help her cover an assignment: a tour of a neighboring power plant. While they observe the control room supervised by Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon), the alarm sounds in the plant, signaling a problem.
Was a meltdown averted? Were there problems with quality control in the reactor? Did profit outweigh safety? Were thousands of people put at risk? Is the year 1979 or 2011?
“The China Syndrome” does not pretend to present scientific data. The movie does present an interesting hypothesis, an exceptional performance by Jack Lemmon and cause for debate as to our status, according to Vidal, of media “amnesia.” Both Lemmon and Fonda were nominated for Oscars. Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs. Kramer” took home the Best Actor trophy instead of Lemmon, Al Pacino in “And Justice for All,” Peter Sellers in “Being There,” or Roy Scheider in “All That Jazz.”
This was Sally Field’s year to win for “Norma Rae.” Nominated along with Fonda for “Best Actress” were Ellen Burstyn, “Same Time, Next Year,” Jill Clayburgh, “Starting Over,” Bette Midler, “The Rose,” and Marsha Mason, “Chapter Two.”
Rebecca Redshaw is an author and playwright who worked for 25 years in the film industry in Los Angeles. Copies of her book, SOFA CINEMA: An Easy Guide to DVDs may be purchased at the Sequim Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grading this week’s DVDs: the ABC’s
Mon, Mar 19, 2012
Politics, political figures and spies
Tue, Mar 6, 2012
Tue, Feb 14, 2012
And now, reality
Mon, Jan 30, 2012
Looking back on the year that was (Part 1 of 2)
Wed, Dec 7, 2011
Film buffs should revisit ‘Northwest’
Wed, Nov 2, 2011
Conspiracy theories played out on film
Tue, Oct 18, 2011
Mix-ups, marriage and horse management
Mon, Oct 3, 2011
Going ‘Grease,’ locally and on DVD
Tue, Sep 13, 2011
It’s All About the Music
Fri, Sep 9, 2011