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A sanguine courier of controversy, Otto Preminger shirked the Production Code seal of approval for his 1955 account of a drug addict’s plight, The Man With the Golden Arm. And while many tales of drug addiction have followed in its wake, Preminger’s film is a clear watershed. Though obviously dated in some of its aspects, its scenes of Frank Sinatra, as the eponymous doper, falling on and off the wagon remain chilling and continue to inform contemporary films with the same subject matter.
Bass’ titles for the film feature spiny, cut-out projectiles, vaguely redolent of veins and syringes, that manages to be disconcerting despite the accompaniment of Elmer Bernstein’s rather brassy jazz score. The lines proliferate and jab at awkward, unsettling angles with respect to the titles. And the title of the film is seemingly penned in by four of these lines, suggesting the many forces hemming in Sinatra’s Frankie from all sides. Finally, privileging Preminger’s credit, the titular “golden arm” (which actually refers to Frankie’s prowess as a card dealer and not the location of his track-marks) appears as a bent and tortured appendage, reaching out for either redemption or a fix.