Tuesday, January 4, 2011

764. Hollywood Shoots Up

Or... Old Blue Eyes? More like? Old Golden Arm!

I really want to write about something NOT in the English language. So far, all I’ve written about are movies in English. However, there are quite a few foreign films on here and as the list ascends, the anglo-centricism does inevitably die down. However, given that I just wrote about Requiem for a Dream, I want to bookend that with Otto Preminger’s 1955 film, The Man with the Golden Arm. This is not a Bond movie as I thought it was for many years. Instead, it stars Frank Sinatra as a heroin addict living in the ghettos of Chicago. Between bookies and his crippled wife, he can’t escape this toxic environment or kick his habit and the film details his struggle to get clean.

What impressed me most about this movie was how unflinching it was for its time. In the late 1950’s, the only sort of drug oriented films were sensationalist propaganda (we all remember the landmark 1930's "masterpieces" reefer and cocaine madness!). However, unlike the users in those films, Sinatra is not a babbling idiot. He is a man in trouble looking for answers and trying to make his life better. He is tortured and well developed.

Also, unlike those sensationalist films, he is among the most moral characters depicted. There is a clueless cop, but there is also the sinister drug dealer and the emotionally draining wife which lock him into his heroin abuse. Sinatra is stuck in the middle trying to please everyone and continues to fall back to his old habits.

I can understand how this film, despite the omnipresent Hayes Code, whose censorship encased Hollywood for almost 30 years, had to be released. It was a wake-up call that movies were meant to deal with real life subject matter and that the clunky and outdated Hayes Code was holding back subject matter that people wanted and needed to see. Man With a Golden Arm is a great movie and Sinatra is excellent in it but the lasting effect on Hollywood is ultimately it’s most important legacy.

About the Top 800 Project:

Using the They Shoot Pictures Starting List of 8800 films (LINK) and my Netflix ratings, I sifted through the list and of the 4500 films I’d seen, I selected a random number of films I liked more than the others. The list was about 812 films. I kicked off 12 to get an even 800. The list chronologically goes up to 2009. Each blog entry will list ten films, one of which will be discussed in detail. The ten films will then be posted toThe Top 800 Master List, a Google docs file compiling them. When the countdown finishes in what will be probably be a really a long time, I will begin discussing random films that I didn’t get to before.