The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

I wanted to make a C-3PO joke about goldenrod and red herring red arm replacements and whatever, but my brain is smooshy this morning from too little sleep. Baby E. is still getting up at least once a night. None of our therapists can, in good conscience, suggest that we let him cry for a month on end*, so we’re still sticking it out and just getting up rather than doing cry-it-out.

Anyway, I finished The Man with the Golden Arm, and whew. This is a really depressing movie. To sum up as best as I can: Frankie (Frank Sinatra) is a heroin addict who has done a six-month stint in jail for dealing shady card games. He gets out at the beginning of the movie, has cleaned up, and has aspirations to become a drummer. His obstacles: he has to go home to a neighborhood full of people who want him to stay addicted, stay dealing, and stay low. These include:

  • his wife Zosh/Sophia, a shut-in who is in a wheelchair — her injuries are from a car accident where Frankie was driving; it’s made clear he married her (in the hospital!) out of guilt. Zosh is actually faking her injuries to keep Frankie from leaving her.
  • his old boss who runs the card game and needs Frankie’s magical golden arm to win
  • his old heroin dealer Louie, who works double-time to get Frankie back on the smack.
  • his doofy, childlike friend Sparrow, who doubles as a kid brother/son figure and inadvertently draws Frankie back into the card-dealing lifestyle by getting him arrested for shoplifting.
  • Eh, probably some others I’m not remembering.

Kim Novak plays Molly (who Frankie had an affair with before getting arrested), a hostess at a burlesque club. She supports Frankie’s drummer ambitions and lets him practice at her place, but leaves him when he comes into the club high and manhandles her drunk boyfriend. She comes back in the end to help him quit cold-turkey.

The wheelchair-faker thing is crappy. As I watched, I could see it spawning those jerkfaces who freak out when they see people who use wheelchairs part-time using a walker or a cane or nothing at other times. (Secretly, guys, these jerkfaces think you’re taking personal advantage of them. Just like you did Old Blue Eyes. SHAAAAAAAAME. And by the way, SHAAAAAAME.) The plot point is plausible, sure, because people can be assholes. But it made me sad that the only movie person I saw in a wheelchair this year was, for plot purposes, “a fucking goldbricker.”

Anyhoo. Other things that really struck me:

  • The almost lover-like aspect between Louie and Frankie, the dealer and the addict.
  • Darren McGavin looks like my paternal grandpa.
  • Wait, that wasn’t what I meant to write. Darren McGavin/Louie has this incredible monologue where he talks about his addiction to candy. (“My gums bleed for you,” Frankie says sarcastically.) I know the point of this paternal/avuncular/buddy-buddy moment was to continue luring Frankie over to the Smack Side. But oh my god, I was spellbound. I poked around online till I found the text of it:


l know, l know. l put down a craving once. No, candy, sweets. l used to be eating it all the time. Got examined for the army and they said you’ve got sugar in your blood, friend. You’ve got to give up sweets forever, or it’s good-bye Charlie. l had to give up candy. [lt was awful.] That unfinished feeling that you got all the time. Well, l don’t have to tell you.

l mean you got this one thing on the mind all the time. Can’t stop thinking about it. You know what l did? l said to myself. Okay, off sweets forever. Well, forever can start tomorrow. For once in my life, l’m going to eat all the candy that l can hold. l bought 18 dollars and 20 cents worth of candy and lugged it up to my room. All night long, l ate candy. l was sick. l was sweating, but l kept shoving it in. Ever since then, when l think about candy l say to myself, well you can’t complain. You once had it and had it good. You know what l mean?

Dear god, Louie buddy, you horrible manipulative scum, do I ever.

Relatedly: I have given up candy again, after buying a bag of jelly beans and eating half of it in about an hour. Am going to try the goddamn dark chocolate technique. If you have not heard of it, this technique consists of me eating a single, minuscule square of dark chocolate for dessert once a day, and then presumably in four or five weeks, I will be able to boast to various strangers and acquaintances that it is All I Need Now, Seriously. One can only hope.





* With breaks for milk. Seriously, though, we don’t know that he would cry every night for a month. It’s possible it would only take a week. It’s possible he’d learn faster than we think he would. It’s possible we are training him and ruining him and whatever else people say when you are scared to let your baby learn to soothe himself. Although, in our defense, so far “soothing himself” consists of five-minute snatches of sleep between hyperventilations. Will have to discuss whether this is truly worrisome with the brain doc next time we see him.


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