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The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
The Man with th Golden Arm
This is a unique film whose story and origin marked the evolution of Frank Sinatra as an entertainer and elevated the status of its director, Otto Preminger, one of the most respected masters in Hollywood in the golden years. The Man with the Golden Arm is based on the controversial novel of the same name by Nelson Algren who had already tried previously to take his work to the silver screen. His attempt came to naught owing to its tough storyline and the harshness of some parts. The text by Algren was regarded by some literary critics as "a pessimist, negative novel", rating it as a "bitter, squalid chronicle of a heroin addict who goes back to his area after six months rehabilitation". When the first draft of the story was submitted, the text failed to get past the censors, arguing that the hyper-realistic recreation of heroin addiction was excessive for a movie filmed in Hollywood. John Garfield had bought the rights to the book, but owing to his decease he could not take the novel to the cinema. That's where Otto Preminger came in, interested in directing and producing the cinematographic adaptation of the novel by Algren. Preminger acquired the rights to the work and through his own producer Otto Preminger Films he started production of the film in association with Carlyle Productions with whom he had produced his previous film, Carmen Jones (1954) and with whom he would stay until 1960, the year in which Preminger shot the wonderful Exodus. United Artists agreed to distribute the film, lending the right amount of trust and seriousness required to successfully complete a production of this magnitude.
After winning an Oscar for his supporting role in From here to Eternity (1953), Frank Sinatra fell into a deep depression owing to problems with his voice and the termination of his contracts with several musical producers. The star was not having a good time of it and he needed a shot in the arm, something to drive him forward, motivating him to shine again as brightly as in days of yore. At that time Sinatra was married to Ava Gardner and she was the one who spurred him on to prepare the role of Frankie Machine, a role which would help him re-emerge and hit the heights again. With Sinatra leading the cast, the name of the actresses who would accompany him throughout the film was yet to be decided, his disabled wife and his understanding lover. Otto Preminger chose two actresses with strong characters, very attractive and effective, namely Eleanor Parker, who had just triumphed in the amazing The Naked Jungle and Kim Novak, the star of Picnic.
Frank Sinatra plays the part of Frankie Machine, a former drug addict who returns to his beloved Chicago after spending a spell at a detox center. Frankie comes back with one set idea: to join a jazz band as a percussionist. The doctors who treated him congratulated him on his progress and even Frankie himself is proud to have kicked the habit. His good friend Sparrow (Arnold Stang) celebrates his return and spurs him on to dedicate himself to jazz professionally, helping him in all he can. Sparrow will remain by his side, spurring him on so Frankie is happy. At the other end of the spectrum is Zosch Machine (Eleanor Parker), Frankie's bitter wife, confined to a wheelchair because of an accident. Zosch tries to convince Frankie to give up his musical dreams and devote himself to a more profitable occupation such as going back to his former profession as a high-stake poker croupier (hence the title, the "golden arm" dealing out the cards). Frankie still thinks his future lies in jazz and not in cards and he bitterly comments on the total lack of communication between him and his wife.
Frankie is still dreaming about becoming the drummer with a big jazz band and during his efforts he re-encounters a former flame Molly (Kim Novak). To turn up for an audition he asks his friend Sparrow to get him a suit and good old Sparrow gets it roughly and readily, stealing it in the hope he won't be found out. Unluckily for them both, not everyone agrees that Frankie should be professionally dedicated to music and the police soon find out about the theft and Frankie and Sparrow end up in jail. His former employer Schwiefka (Robert Strauss), the organizer of underground poker games, takes advantage of the situation and offers to pay his bail if he works for him on a major poker game he is organizing. The Man with the Golden Arm, (Frankie's nickname as a croupier) has no other choice but to accept unless he wants his dreams to vanish overnight. After working days and nights long enveloped in smoke and alcohol, surrounded by characters of dubious morality, Frankie starts feeling the need to take heroin again and he doesn't feel confident of his skills unless he is under the influence of drugs. Beside himself, he attacks an old acquaintance, the drugs dealer Louie (Darren McGavin) and then goes on the run. The dealer recovers from the attack and goes out to look for Frankie to get his revenge. In his quest he ends up at Frankie's apartment and by chance discovers that his wife, Zosch, has been faking disability all along, and the latter, having been revealed, is obliged to act, triggering a series of dramatic events which will force Frankie to go back to a detox center, overcoming his addiction by abstinence and suffering.
The Heroes of Telemark (1965)
The Heroes Of Telemark
Throughout the 1960s, Hollywood invented what we now call 'infiltration commando films', a truly interesting sub-genre within war films, far from the brutal realism that would be introduced years later, but with enough adventure and romanticism to be regarded as a great spectacle. Until then, war films were characterized by a minimalist way of developing the theme, showing the audience small brush strokes of war. Although there were war scenes, directors focused more on directing the actors than on special effects and creating a spectacular story. Great films such as 'Objective, Burma!' (1945), 'Destination Tokyo' (1943) and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' (1957) included no important action scenes. They started to appear later on thanks to the demythologization of war, and the will to recover a genre that had been more or less forgotten. 'The Guns of Navarone' (1961), 'The Dirty Dozen' (1967) and 'Where Eagles Dare' (1968) are good examples of this commando sub-genre. They were keen to show a more feasible type of war, slightly unreal and 'festive', but without losing their ensemble film quality.
Together with the three mentioned above, one of the most popular films is 'The Heroes of Telemark', directed by the brilliant Anthony Mann, a great director of western and ensemble films, who lived in Europe back then and worked in Samuel Bronston's blockbusters. Using his savor-fare in 'The Heroes of Telemark' he adapted a true story that took place during Germany's invasion of Norway. He worked together with screenwriters Ivan Moffat, Knut Haukelid and Ben Barzman (with the support of novelist John Drummond) and the magnetism of Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobsson and Sir Michael Redgrave. We must not forget the excellent photography of Robert Krasker, which transports us to Telemark (Norway) in the comfort of our seats, and also the elegant score by Malcolm Arnold (who also composed the music for 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'). Curiously enough, Kirk Douglas worked with Anthony Mann again when he started to direct 'Spartacus' (1960), before he was replaced by Stanley Kubrick.
The film is set in the region of Telemark (Norway) in 1942, when the allies found a document that irrefutably proved that German scientists were making progress in the search for atomic fission at the Vemork heavy water plant, situated next to the small town of Rjukan, and were in the middle of making an atomic bomb that would change the course of the war. 'Heavy water' is a chemical compound with a molecular formula equivalent to water, in which hydrogen atoms are replaced with deuterium, a heavy hydrogen isotope.
Back then, Norway had built up its own resistance, made up of civilians and former soldiers. One of the members, Knut Haukelid (1911-1994), twin brother of actress Sigrid Gurie, became a national hero after being part of the real commando that appears in the film. The Norwegian resistance and the British army work against the clock to prevent Hitler from achieving his long-awaited bomb: Together they draw up an ambitious plan to destroy the Vemork factory. Once they rule out the possibility of bombarding, Operation Freshman is launched – British paratroopers are deployed over Telemark and are supposed to join the resistance, led by the Norwegian soldier Knut Straud (Richard Harris), who does not hesitate to seek the help of physicist Rolf Pedersen (Kirk Douglas). To make it all even more dramatic, Pedersen discovers that his ex-wife (Ulla Jacobsson) and uncle (Sir Michael Redgrave) have joined the resistance. This is dangerous for him personally because one's feelings can often cloud one's reasoning in times of war. The human reactions that take place in the film help to establish a stronger connection between the audience and the protagonists.
Operation Freshman proves to be unsuccessful because the Horsa Glidier gliders crash and part of the crew die in the accident, and the rest are shot by the enemy. A great part of the true story emerges in the film, although the name of Major Knut Haukelid is changed to Knut Straud (Richard Harris), in order to allow certain liberties in the development of the film. After the first mission fails, the Norwegian commando that is waiting, made up of 15 volunteers (in the film there are only 9), launches Operation Gunnerside. They enter the factory and destroy the tanks where the 'heavy water' is stored. The facility remains inactive for two months but the Germans manage to rebuild the tanks and increase production. The saboteurs ski all the way to Sweden to avoid being captured by the Germans, while the Norwegian and British soldiers continue to rack their brains to find a way to stop the production of 'heavy water'. These events pick up speed in the film and shortly after the first attempt to sabotage the factory, Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris (after a thrilling persecution on skis) come into action again and plan to blow up the factory which is about to transport the 'heavy water', even if they have to risk their lives and those of their loved ones to complete the mission.
For just over two hours, and thanks to the rhythm and elegance that Anthony Mann stamps in every shot, the audience will travel alongside the protagonists, in their adventures and mishaps, and will discover a truly interesting series of historical events. The filming locations were Vemork, Rjukan, Tinnsjo and Gausta, in the region of Telemark, in Norway, and also Oslo, because Anthony Mann wanted to make the most of the beautiful landscape. While he was there, he shot magnificent skiing scenes, in the manner of the best German Bergfilms. We must not forget that the region of Telemark is the cradle of skiing, as it is known today.