Frustrated at losing On the Waterfront (1954), Frank Sinatra acted swiftly to pip Marlon Brando to Otto Preminger’s adaptation of the bestselling Nelson Algren novel about the wonderfully named Frankie Machine, a reformed Chicago heroin addict and card dealer trying to stay clean and make it as a jazz drummer, having learned to play in prison.
But the pressures of dealing with a wife in a wheelchair, a pusher and the woman he really loves make things tough for Frankie.
From Saul Bass’s opening credits to Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score, this movie boasts its modernity in its unflinching approach to the story and subject matter.
Trainspotting (1996) it isn’t but, in the clean-cut Eisenhower era, this movie shocked audiences deeply. In any event, Frank Sinatra‘s Oscar-nominated performance still impresses, as do those of Eleanor Parker as his wife, Zosch, and Kim Novak as Sinatra’s object of desire, Molly.
In addition to visiting rehab clinics and learning to play the drums, Sinatra also agreed to rehearse and remained patient as newcomer Novak required endless retakes.
But the forbearance proved worthwhile, as Sinatra gives one of his finest performances, tempering his superficial cockiness with a vulnerability that crushes him when he fluffs an audition while craving a fix.
The picture was a commercial success, despite being denied a Production Code seal of approval for tackling the taboo topic of drug abuse.