Archive for movie based on a book

The Dark Tower

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2018 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

There are other worlds than these. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, the ambitious and expansive story from one of the world’s most celebrated authors, makes its launch to the big screen. The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

What people are saying:

“I’ve been told that The Dark Tower books are jam-packed with dense plot, wonderful characters, and a sprawling mythology – which is what made the movie so hard to make for all these years. Well, the solution seems to have been to just scrap all that and release a shockingly short 95-minute movie that just kind of glosses over everything to the point that has any meaning or purpose” 2 1/2 stars

“Elba, eyes narrowed, brow furrowed, delivers a one-note performance of weary stoicism, while McConaughey fails to embody evil incarnate, though he does at least display the odd flash of malevolent wit.” 2 stars

“What an abomination. Any resemblance between this and the Stephen King novels that inspired it(?) is purely coincidental.Elba is the best thing in it and I admire his ability to stay in character instead of running screaming from the set. Poor CGI, disjointed story,strained dialogue, indifferent acting other than the three leads, it’s a hodge podge of the worst B movie traditions. Tedious and boring. King deserves much much better.” 1 star

“Going into the movie without knowing the story it was quite entertaining. If you just enjoy the movie rather than worrying about low reviews you will likely enjoy it. decent story about good vesus evil.Several really great action scenes and you actually care bout the two main actors. Well worth a rental.” 4 stars

“I don’t know why people complain about non-compliance with a book. You read to stoke YOUR imagination. Do you expect a director to please everyone else who read it? Thus we come to the quality of the movie–never read the books. This is above average for the genre. McConaughey is so brilliantly evil. Elba and the boy bond beautifully. Well paced and written, the story line worked for me as presented. Better than 20 hours and six films of Hobbits, etc. to get the story. It’s a well done and entertaining movie.” 4 stars

The Temptations

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2018 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Told chiefly through the viewpoint of founding member Otis Williams (Charles Malik Whitfield), this biographical miniseries — based on the book by Williams and Shelly Berger — chronicles one of Motown’s most influential singing groups. But success, it seems, never comes without temptation as Williams and company wrestle with cocaine addition, booze, depression, envy and ballooning egos that threaten to destroy their hard-earned fame and fortune.

What people are saying:

“I have not been so emotionally involved in a television film in a long time,but along comes this charming,insightful,and wonderful film. The cast does a superb job. I never knew much about the temps, one of the greatest groups of all time, had so much strife and personal pain.This movie is an instant classic. I have a much better appreciation for their impact on rock and roll history after seeing this movie.” 5 stars

“A solid bio-pic that I’m hoping is handled better in the future.” 4 stars

“This is a sanitized “Hallmark” version or politically correct tale of the Temptations story. It’s enjoyable, well-acted, and well-directed. You can’t help but like this movie since the songs are wonderful and the characters are endearing. It would have been a better film at 2 hours – the extra 55 minutes wasn’t necessary. However, for Temptations fans, you’ll love the illusion that this movie is peddling, and it’s a story that makes us feel good about who they were and what they accomplished.” 4 stars

“One of the best music bios ever. I’m not even debating the artistic licenses that might have been taken. Insofar as a great story with awesome music and wonderfully recreated performances, this is tops. I’ve watched it twice over the holiday season and still am not sick of it!” 5 stars

“The TV movie story of the street-doowop to soul-superstar Temptations from 1958 to 1995 when bass singer Melvin Franklyn died. Strict historical accuracy is not what this film is about, but what is accurate is the reconstruction of the act and the music, which is what matters in a movie. The first half is full of vignettes of the (black) music biz in Detroit in the early Motown days, which is genuinely moving in a few places; and although the second half tends towards the schmaltzy, it’s good to be reminded of the seminal records that the group continued to put out after David Ruffin parted company, and of the way that members of a group that big have deeper bonds than most people, including their own families. It’s told from the viewpoint of Otis Williams, who is the only Temp to survive all incarnations of the group, so he naturally he tends to get an easy ride, but it does acknowledge (in the great end sequence) that the David Ruffin lineup was the best there could be. The scene where he and Eddie Kendricks sing to the punter in the supper club is a killer. Well worth the two-and a half hours running time, which is not something you can say of many TV movies this long. Better IMHO than Walk the Line, which was no turkey itself. If you love Motown, don’t miss it.” 4 1/2 stars

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2018 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Based on the worldwide sensation and bestselling book series, and boasting an A-list cast of comedy superstars headed by Kevin Hart and Ed Helms, DreamWorks Animation brings audiences the long-awaited global movie event, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. This raucously subversive comedy for the entire family tells the story of two overly imaginative pranksters named George and Harold, who hypnotize their principal into thinking he’s a ridiculously enthusiastic, incredibly dimwitted superhero named Captain Underpants.

What people are saying:

“With a tidy plot, clean animation, and humor that fits its source material snugly, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is entertainment that won’t drive a wedge between family members” 4 stars

“Captain Underpants is an homage to the funny high jinks of The Kids Next Door series that aired on Cartoon Network. Unfortunately it doesn’t capture the fun and wonderment of childhood like The KND. Instead, the movie proves beyond a doubt to NEVER believe any of the professional critics reviews on Rotten Tomatoes! This is the most disappointing movie to come out of Dreamworks who is known for their excellence in family entertainment.”

“As superhero films shift more in the direction of mature themes (even the PG-13 offerings are starting to push the envelope), a specifically child-friendly hopeful franchise starter such as Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is an appreciated gift” 3 stars

“One of the best surprises of 2017. Captain Underpants has no shame in all the right ways. As a fan of the books when I was a kid, this movie was an absolute love letter to me. It’s faithful, over the top and very self-aware. But from humor that is pulled off with care, the genuine connection between the two main characters and animation that is bright and whimsical, even non-book fans can find a certain joy in this movie.” 4 1/2 stars

“My family really enjoyed this movie and it passed the “six laugh test”. Now, if you do not like puerile humor and pee and poop and fart jokes, then this movie may not be for you. However, there is plenty in this movie that does make it quite funny. George and Harold have been terrorized by their principal for years and have tried to fight back with various pranks to buck up their fellow students. Principal Krupp has never been able to prove their culpability in the pranks. When he finally gets evidence on them, the duo are forced to try hypnotizing Krupp with a cheap toy from a cereal box. Of course, they are amazed when it works and he becomes their comic book creation Captain Underpants. This movie is quite conscious of its puerile nature and uses that to its self-deprecatory advantage. When it comes down to it, this movie is about kids and friendships and just how deep those friendships forged in early years can be. The movie stays pretty true to the tone of the book and is completely insane.” 5 stars

Von Ryan’s Express

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2016 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

At the height of World War II, a group of Allied POWs escapes an Italian prison with the help of an idealistic American leader (Frank Sinatra), whose style clashes with that of his second in command (Trevor Howard). Just a few steps from freedom, the men are captured again — this time by German troops. A series of twists and turns drives them to commandeer the very train that’s transporting them to certain death.

What people are saying:

“super movie about an escape from a pow camp in italy by stealing a train. sinatra is brilliant as the arrogant us fighter pilot leading the brits against the italians and germans. the last scene is an all time classic” 5 stars

“Well made escape film starts out very well drags here and there but is an enjoyable experience overall.” 3 stars

“talk about the Great Escape on trains, Frank Sinatra was great being the hard-headed fighter pilot colonel who chose to escape and not to leave a man behind despite what his British counter-part says about escaping prisoners” 5 stars

“Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard are a great antagonistic couple in Mark Robson’s thrilling war movie. Sinatra is an American pilot who crashes in Italy and is sent to a prison camp where Howard leads the inmates. The two bicker over whether it’s best to hatch escape plans or lie low till the war ends. When Italy surrenders the prisoners seize a train, planning to escape to neutral Switzerland. Much darker than earlier portrayals of WWII, characters are made to do a lot of nasty things which genuinely trouble them. Great downer ending too.” 4 stars

“I liked it but I couldn’t understand the German language. I guess they didn’t have captions when this film was made but all in all I understand the what was happening. This movie was made without all the bad language that is out there in Hollywood in the movie making business. I told you all a movie can be made without all this bad F words that are out there today. The Nazi Germans were evil in WWII, including the Japanese. were very evil” 4 stars

To Kill a Mockingbird

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2016 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film’s young protagonists, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Badham) and her brother Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch (Phillip Alford), live in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s. The story covers three years, during which Scout and Jem undergo changes in their lives. They begin as innocent children, who spend their days happily playing games with each other and spying on Arthur “Boo” Radley (Robert Duvall), who has not been seen for many years by anybody as a result of never leaving his house and about whom many rumors circulate. Their widowed father, Atticus (Gregory Peck), is a town lawyer and has a strong belief that all people are to be treated fairly, to turn the other cheek, and to stand for what you believe. He also allows his children to call him by his first name. Early in the film, the children see their father accept hickory nuts, and other produce, from Mr. Cunningham (Crahan Denton) for legal work because the client has no money. Through their father’s work as a lawyer, Scout and Jem begin to learn of the racism and evil in their town, aggravated by poverty; they mature quickly as they are exposed to it.

The local judge (Paul Fix) appoints Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), against an accusation of rape of a white teenaged girl, Mayella Ewell. Atticus accepts the case. Jem and Scout experience schoolyard taunts for their father’s decision. Later, a lynch mob, led by Mr. Cunningham, tries to lynch Robinson over Atticus’ objections. Scout, Jem and their friend, Dill, interrupt the confrontation. Scout, unaware of the mob’s purpose, recognizes Cunningham as the man who paid her father in hickory nuts and tells him to say hello to his son, who is her schoolmate. Cunningham becomes embarrassed and the mob disperses.

At the trial, it is undisputed that Tom came to Mayella’s home at her request to assist with the chopping up of a chifforobe, and that Mayella showed signs of having been beaten around that time. Among Atticus’ chief arguments, he points out that Tom is crippled in his left arm, and that the supposed rapist would have had to make extensive use of his left hand in assaulting Mayella before raping her. At the same time Atticus demonstrates that Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, is left handed, implying that he – rather than Tom – was the one who beat Mayella. Atticus also states that the girl had not even been examined by a doctor to check for signs of rape after the supposed assault. In his closing argument Atticus asks the all white, male jury to cast aside their prejudices and instead focus on Tom’s obvious innocence. In taking the stand in his own defense, Tom denies he attacked Mayella, but states she kissed him. He testifies he voluntarily assisted Mayella because “I felt sorry for her because . . . “. He didn’t finish the sentence but the prosecutor hammered home the point that he was a black man feeling sorry for a white woman. In a town where whites are viewed as superior to blacks, Tom’s sympathy for Mayella dooms his case, and he’s found guilty.

Atticus arrives home to discover from the sheriff (Frank Overton) that Tom has been killed by a deputy during his transfer to prison. The sheriff states that according to this deputy, Tom was trying to escape. The deputy reported that Tom ran like a “crazy” man before he was shot. Atticus and Jem go to the Robinson family home to advise them of Tom’s death. Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, appears and spits in Atticus’ face while Jem waits in the car. Atticus wipes his face and leaves.

Autumn arrives and Scout and Jem attend a nighttime Halloween pageant at their school. Scout wears a large hard-shelled ham costume, portraying one of Maycomb county’s products. At some point during the pageant, Scout’s dress and shoes are misplaced. She’s forced to walk home without shoes and wearing her ham costume. While cutting through the woods, Scout and Jem are attacked by an unidentified man who has been following them. Scout’s costume, like an awkward suit of armor, protects her from the attack but restricts her movement and severely restricts her vision. Their attacker is thwarted and overcome by another unidentified man. Jem is knocked unconscious and Scout escapes unharmed in a brief but violent struggle. Scout escapes her costume in time to see a man carrying Jem to their home and entering. Scout follows and once inside runs into the arms of a concerned Atticus. Doc Reynolds comes over and treats the broken arm of an unconscious Jem.

When Sheriff Tate asks Scout what happened, she notices a man standing silently behind the bedroom door in the corner of Jem’s room. Atticus introduces Scout to Mr Arthur Radley; he is the person who came to their aid against Ewell in the woods. Boo is also the man who carried Jem home. The sheriff reports Bob Ewell was discovered dead at the scene of the attack with a knife in his ribs. Atticus assumes Jem killed Ewell in self-defense. Sheriff Tate, however, believes that Boo killed Ewell in defense of the children and tells Atticus that to drag the shy and reserved Boo into the spotlight for his heroism would be “a sin.” To protect Boo, Sheriff Tate suggests that Ewell “fell on his knife.” Scout draws a startlingly precocious analogy to an earlier lesson from the film (hence its title) when she likens any public outing of Boo to the killing of a mockingbird. The film ends with Scout considering events from Boo’s point of view, and Atticus watching over the unconscious Jem.

REVIEW:

This morning, I was talking to someone about classic films and To Kill a Mockingbird came up. Both of us realized it had been quite some since we last watched. Speaking for myself, and I’m sure many of you, it was way back in high school after we had to read the book for class. I wonder how my opinion has changed in these years since, especially with the current political and racial climate.

What is this about?

Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall).

What did I like?

Just a Peck. I am not inherently familiar with Gregory Peck’s body of work. Before this, I had only seen him in How the West was Won and Roman Holiday, hardly enough to judge the man’s career. Watching him command the screen when he would show up, though, was enough to see why he was and still is such a respected actor. The highlight, though, was his brilliant recital of his lines in the courtroom. That speech is a very powerful moment in the book and Peck brought every bit of emotion he could to the forefont as he delivered a powerful defense that left the courtroom silent.

Respect. As we all know, when books are made into movies, many things are added, subtracted, and changed. I am glad, though, that the scene where all the African-Americans, who were forced to sit in the balcony area because of the time period, stood up as a sign of respect as Atticus Finch was leaving. It shows that, while this was a very hard time in race relations, they respect any who try to help. I doubt that if the color tables were turned, that would have been the case, sadly.

Chifforobe. When I was growing up and would make the summer trip to visit my grandmother, she would always yell to go get her purse out of the chifforobe. To this day, the only place I hear the word chifforboe is in the backwoods of Mississippi and the one episode of Family Guy where Brian tries is dating this older woman. The only reason I even know what thing is was this movie. Watching today made me remember that, but I’m sure I’ll forget in about an hour or so.

What didn’t I like?

Today’s evidence. This has always bothered me, even when I read it in the book. All the evidence leads to Tom being innocent, but because of Mayellen Ewell having a breakdown in court and the race issue, Tom is convicted. Not even Atticus’ eloquent words were enough to save him. I’m sitting here thinking, this should not have been this way, and then I look at some of the high profile cases of the past few years, and they turn out the same way. How else is George Zimmerman free, for instance? I’m all for innocent until proven guilty, but you shouldn’t be guilty even if you’re proven innocent!

Boo who? The subplot involving Boo Radley, from what I remember, was much more of a factor in the book. Here it is mentioned and forgotten until the end. Personally, I think they could have spent less time showing Scout fighting and more time developing the Boo Radley angle, because as it is in the film, sort of just comes out of nowhere. The scenes where his dad is closing up that knothole in the tree doesn’t mean anything, either. Whoever it was that did the cutting for this film shouldn’t have cut so much out.

AFI voted Atticus Finch the #1 hero in film. This is over the likes of Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Tarzan, and even Superman! If you’ve never seen this picture, that may make no sense, but after you watch and see how Atticus defends a man who is surely destined for prison, no matter what he does, his family, and shows a great deal of respect and patience towards those less dignified and educated, you’ll see why he earned that spot. The film itself is a brilliant masterpiece that everyone should watch during their lifetime. I very highly recommend it!

5 out of 5 stars

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A montage of news clips of Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests is seen while The Lennon Sisters cover of “My Favorite Things” is heard.

Raoul Duke (Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (del Toro) speed across the Nevada desert. Duke, under the influence of mescaline, complains of a swarm of giant bats, before going through the pair’s inventory of psychoactive drugs. Shortly afterward, the duo stop to pick up a young hitchhiker (Maguire), and explain what they are doing. Duke has been assigned by an unnamed magazine to travel to Las Vegas and cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. However, they have also decided to take advantage of the trip by purchasing a large number of drugs, and rent a red Chevrolet Impala convertible. The young man soon becomes terrified of the antics of the duo, and flees on foot. Trying to reach Vegas before the hitchhiker can go to the police, Gonzo gives Duke part of a sheet of “Sunshine Acid”, then informs him that there is little chance of making it before the drug kicks in. By the time they reach the strip, Duke is in the full throes of his trip, and barely makes it through the check-in, all the while hallucinating that the hotel clerk is a moray eel, and that his fellow bar patrons are lizards in the depths of an orgy.

The next day, Duke arrives at the race, and heads out with his photographer, a man by the name of Lacerda (Bierko). During the coverage, Duke becomes irrational and believes that they are in the middle of a battlefield, so he fires Lacerda, and returns to the hotel. After consuming more mescaline, as well as huffing diethyl ether, Duke and Gonzo arrive at the Bazooko Circus casino, but leave shortly afterwards, the chaotic atmosphere frightening Gonzo. Back in the hotel room, Duke leaves Gonzo unattended, and tries his luck at a quick round of Big Six. When Duke returns, he finds that Gonzo, after consuming a full sheet of LSD, has trashed the room, and is sitting fully clothed in the bathtub, attempting to pull the tape player in with him, as he wants to hear the song better. He pleads with Duke to throw the machine into the water when the song “White Rabbit” peaks. Duke agrees, but instead throws a grapefruit at Gonzo’s head before running outside.

The next morning, Duke awakes to a massive room service bill, and no sign of Gonzo (who has returned to Los Angeles while Duke slept), and attempts to leave town. As he nears Baker, California, a highway patrolman (Busey) pulls him over for speeding, and advises him to sleep at a nearby rest stop. Duke instead heads to a payphone and calls Gonzo, learning that he has a suite in his name at the Flamingo Las Vegas so he can cover a District Attorney’s convention on narcotics. Duke checks into his suite, only to be met by an LSD-tripping Gonzo, and a young girl by the name of Lucy (Ricci) he has brought with him. Gonzo explains that Lucy has come to Las Vegas to meet Barbra Streisand, and that he gave her LSD on the plane not realizing she had never taken it before. Sensing the trouble this could get them into, Duke convinces Gonzo to ditch Lucy in another hotel before her trip wears off.

Gonzo accompanies Duke to the D.A.’s convention, and the pair discreetly snort cocaine as the guest speaker delivers a comically out-of-touch speech about “marijuana addicts” before showing a brief film. Unable to take it, Duke and Gonzo flee back to their room, only to discover that Lucy has called. Their trips mostly over, Gonzo deals with Lucy over the phone (pretending that he is being savagely beaten by thugs), as Duke attempts to mellow out by trying some of Gonzo’s stash of adrenochrome. However, the trip spirals out of control, and Duke is reduced to an incoherent mess before he blacks out.

After an unspecified amount of time passes, Duke wakes up to a complete ruin of the once pristine suite. After discovering his tape recorder, he attempts to remember what has happened. As he listens, he has brief memories of the general mayhem that has taken place, including a heated encounter with a waitress at a diner, convincing a distraught cleaning woman that they are police officers investigating a drug ring, and attempting to buy an orangutan.

Duke drops Gonzo off at the airport, after missing the entrance, driving across the tarmac and pulling up right next to the plane, before returning to the hotel one last time to finish his article. Duke speeds back to Los Angeles.

REVIEW:

Certain people in this household are obsessed with Johnny Depp. As such, while I had actually planned to watch something else this evening, we ended up watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The jury is still out on whether this was a better choice than what I had planned.

What is this about?

This cult favorite chronicles the hallucinogenic misadventures of a sportswriter and his lawyer on a three-day romp from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Motoring across the Mojave Desert to Sin City, the hazy travelers ingest a cornucopia of drugs.

What did I like?

Here’s Johnny. I hear all the time about how Johnny Depp has become a one-note act. Watching his last few films will lend one to think that all he can do is a funny accent in some kind of makeup. Then we see something like this, Public Enemies, or his new film, which I cannot think of the name of right now, and remember that the guy actually is a really good actor. Who else can pull off this mix of madness and paranoia?

Hallucinations. People, there are lots of drugs to be had in this films and, as one can imagine, the combinations of said drugs and the paranoia of our stars creates some interesting hallucinations. Bats flying in the middle of the desert, melting floors, my personal favorite, giant lizard people, among other visions. Terry Gilliam was able to portray these sights to the audience in a way that only he can, leaving us wanting more.

Period piece. Set in the early 70s, I felt at times like I was really back there. Not because of any specific lingo, clothing, or what have you, but because of the music. Yes, the soundtrack transports us back to those days. Mixing the likes of Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and more, it is hard to ignore the impact that these songs have as one watches the film.

What didn’t I like?

Vomit. People vomit, especially when they are drunk and/or high. I get that, but I have to question the need to show said vomit. In some modern media, when we see someone vomit, the act of spewing isn’t scene and if it is, it is from a distance, not in full color. I like to think I have a strong stomach and all, but watching del Toro blow chunks made me queasy!

Read a book. Apparently, this is a book. I have never heard of it, to tell you the truth, but this isn’t exactly the genre I peruse when I’m in the library or bookstore, either. That being said, at times I felt as if this film was shooting a bit above its head. That is to say, the concept was there, but something was lacking in the execution. I can’t tell you exactly what, but it was just a feeling I had watching.

Lost and confused. Have you ever read a book, watched a TV show, or even a movie and, while you paid attention the whole time, you still had no idea what was going on? That is how I felt watching this. I was reading some other reviews and I am not alone in this train of thought, either. For me, there didn’t seem to be a clear plot. We are privy to the knowledge that Depp and del Toro are driving from L.A. to Vegas and are on all kinds of drugs, but why they are on this road trip is never really told, except for in passing, as with most other things in the picture. Important facts and plot points are “blink and you’ll miss it.”

For years now I have been hearing people clamor about how impressive Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is, but unfortunately I wasn’t really that impressed with this picture. Now, before you come tar and feather me, let me say that this is not a bad film. It just is a bit more on the artsy-fartsy side than I would like. Depp and del Toro give standout performances to keep it going, but in the end, I believe this just wasn’t the film for me. Do I recommend it? Yes, it may be your cup of tea. So, give it a shot!

3 out of 5 stars

The Man with the Golden Arm

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) is released from prison with a set of drums and a new outlook on life, and returns to his run down neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. A heroin addict, Frankie became clean in prison. On the outside, he greets friends and acquaintances. Sparrow (Arnold Stang), who runs a con selling homeless dogs, clings to him like a young brother, but Schwiefka (Robert Strauss), whom Frankie used to deal for in his illegal card game, has more sinister reasons for welcoming him back, as does Louis (Darren McGavin), Machine’s former heroin dealer.

Frankie returns home to his wife Zosh (Eleanor Parker), who is supposedly wheelchair-bound (but secretly fully recovered) after a car crash some years earlier. Frankie comments on the whistle she wears around her neck, a device she used in Frankie’s absence to summon a neighbor, Vi (Doro Merande), when needed. With Frankie home, Zosh smothers her husband in their small tenement apartment and hinders his attempt to make something of himself. He thinks he has what it takes to play drums for a big band. While calling to make an appointment, he bumps into an old flame, Molly (Kim Novak) who works in a local strip joint as a hostess and lives in the apartment below Frankie’s.

Frankie soon gets himself a tryout and asks Sparrow to get him a new suit, but the suit is a stolen one and he ends up back in a cell at a local Chicago Police Precinct. Schwiefka offers to pay the bail. Frankie refuses, but soon changes his mind when the sight of a drug addict on the edge becomes too much for him. Now, to repay the debt, he must deal for Schwiefka again. Louis is trying to hook him on heroin again, and with no job and Zosh to please, pressure is building from all directions.

Soon Frankie succumbs and is back on drugs and dealing marathon, all-night, card games for Schwiefka. He gets a tryout as a drummer, but spends 24 hours straight dealing a poker game. Desperately needing a fix, Frankie follows Louis home, attacks him, ransacks his house, but can’t find his stash of heroin. At the audition, with withdrawal coming on, Frankie can’t keep the beat and ruins his chance of landing the drumming job. When Louis goes to see Zosh to try to find him, Louis discovers that Zosh has been faking her paralysis and can walk. Zosh, scared of being found out, pushes Louis over the railing of the stairwell to his death, but things backfire when Frankie is sought for murder.

Initially not realizing he is a suspect in Louie’s death, Frankie goes to Molly hoping to get money for a fix. After learning that Det. Bednar and the police are looking for him, Molly convinces Frankie that he must go cold turkey if he is to stand a chance with the police. Frankie agrees and is locked in Molly’s apartment where he goes through a grueling withdrawal to clear the drugs from his body. Finally clean again, he tells Zosh he is going to leave her, start anew and stand trial. In her desperation, Zosh once again gives herself away, standing up in front of Frankie and the police. She runs, but can get no farther than the outside balcony. Trapped, she blows the whistle and throws herself off the balcony to her death. A police ambulance then arrives to remove Zosh’s lifeless body and drives away, while Frankie watches in dismay. He then walks away with Molly.

REVIEW:

With National Jazz Appreciation Month drawing to a close, it was brought to my attention that I have yet to review a jazz film. If you search the archives of this blog, you will notice that I have gone through quite a few of those since the beginning, which makes it hard to find any that are left. I think I found one, though, in The Man with the Golden Arm. Yes, I know it sounds like it should the title of a James Bond film.

What is this about?

Frank Sinatra turns in an Oscar-nominated performance as Frankie Machine, a heroin addict and gifted card dealer trying to kick his drug habit so he can pursue his dream of becoming a professional jazz drummer. But a nagging wife, a high stakes poker game and a suspicious death conspire against Frankie’s desperate attempts to give up the needle once and for all.

What did I like?

Heroin. Today, it seems as if you can see drug addiction as easily as you can find a love story in film, but at the time this was released, that was not the case. As a matter of fact, when this was in the early stages of being adapted from the book, the heroin parts weren’t included because the MPAA would never let it fly. Thankfully, they came down from their high horse and let it slide, because Sinatra’s heroin addiction is such a powerful and poignant plot device.

Ol’ Blue Eyes. Speaking of Sinatra, I’ve seen him in a few films, all musicals, I believe. I’m well aware that along with that great voice, he could sing, but I didn’t know that the guy had some serious Academy Award Nominee acting chops! Holy Cow! This must have been the performance of his career because it was so moving, so powerful, so raw, and so emotional. A supposedly sober card dealer who falls back into heroin, loses everything, and fights to get it back. Sinatra nails every aspect of that description and then some.

Score. The opening scene of the film is pure big band bebop. The animation that goes along with it is hip with the style of the time (watch late 50s/early 60s Bugs Bunny/Coyote/Daffy/etc. cartoons and you’ll see what I’m referring to). Elmer Bernstein is a genius composer, but what is more impressive is that there really isn’t that much music. The opening theme is heard a few times and in the bar you can hear some jazz on the radio, but that’s it. Bernstein’s music makes an impression on the listener, still, even though it isn’t heard that much.

What didn’t I like?

Baroness. Does the name Eleanor Parker ring a bell? No? Well, surely you have seen her in a little film known as The Sound of Music where she plays the Baroness. Truthfully, I wasn’t a fan of her performance there and in this film I get the same feeling. I’m starting to wonder if I have some ill will towards this woman! Her character, who is Sinatra’s nagging wife confined to a wheelchair, is a contradiction. What I mean by that is we’ll see her in one scene and she’s very likable and sympathetic and in the next, she’s downright despicable! Pick a side, lady!

Jazz…or lack thereof. With that jazzy opening, and all Sinatra’s talk of joining a band, you’d think there’d have been some jazz in this flick. Well, we get one scene where Sinatra fails his audition, and that’s it. Being a jazz lover, I’m a bit biased when it comes to this, but to me this was just a cocktease. If you’re going to use jazz in your film, then either play it up in the soundtrack like The Incredibles or Catch Me If You Can (to a lesser extent), or leave it out altogether.

The play’s the thing. With the way this film is acted, I initially thought it was adapted from a play, rather than a novel. It is very stage-like. I was half expecting the lights to dim and to hear sets moving after every act. The stage aspect, could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. For me, I would have preferred a more cinematic experience, is all. Also, as I mentioned before, the lack of in-scene music added to the play mentality.

The Man with a Golden Arm really disappointed me. Not because it is a bad film, mind you, but because it wasn’t what it was advertised to be. I was expecting something more along the lines of A Man Called Adam. Instead, I get a non-gangster film-noire. At any rate, I can say that this wasn’t a total loss. There is a really good story here told by some fine actors. Do I recommend this film? Yes, I believe it would be worth your time to check it out at some point.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars