Otto Preminger’s 1955 film, The Man With the Golden Arm is one of those works that has been at the convergence of my worlds as a Composer and a Visual Designer (worlds colliding!) I had never seen the film until last week though was thoroughly familiar with the opening credit sequence or white lines on black background and the unforgettable crooked arm logo design by Saul Bass. Bass is also known for his design of the shower scene in Psycho which Hitchcock handed completely over to him.
View opening credit sequence.
Elmer Bernstein’s music is one of the first jazz-influenced scores and makes sense to the story. Frank Sinatra’s drug addicted Frankie Machine, the man with the golden arm, so named for his golden touch as a card dealer for an illegal poker club is back from rehab and has learned to play the drums. He wants to change his life and join a big band.
Elia Kazan’s 1951 film Streetcar Named Desire with score by Alex North may be the first score to use jazz. But the Man with the Golden Arm comes up again and again as such an influential film. The confluence of forces of being in the right place at the right time, the perfect graphic design, a big named star and of course the powerful and unforgettable motif in Bernstein’s score. Bernstein often called himself Bernstein West to differentiate from the other Bernstein, the New York-based Leonard who also contributed some great film scores including “On The Waterfront” and of course, “West Side Story” based on the play for which he also wrote with Stephen Sondheim.
One of my favorite soundtracks of recent past is Michael Giacchino’s for “The Incredibles” with Grammy award-winning big band arrangements by Gordon Goodwin.