The Academy Awards are almost here, which starts me reminiscing on how Frank Sinatra was able to transcend being the best popular singer of his time to also become a brilliant actor. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1953’s From Here to Eternity and even hosted the 35th and 47th Academy Award shows, but awards don’t always tell the whole story as his performances in The Manchurian Candidate and The Man with the Golden Arm, for which he was nominated for Best Actor in 1955, may have surpassed that earlier role.
His stellar portrayal of heroin addict Frankie Machine was essential for the success of the film as there was controversy over whether the movie would ever reach much of the public because explicitly showing drug abuse on screen was a huge taboo at the time. Producer and director Otto Preminger wanted to push ahead to be able to use this black-listed subject matter in film plots. There’s no doubt Frank’s stellar acting, which he took very seriously, added some much-needed credibility towards the movie’s acceptance.
It’s interesting to note that the film’s title song, performed by Sinatra with Nelson Riddle’s orchestra backing him, wasn’t on the soundtrack album. In fact, it wouldn’t be officially released with Frank until 2002 when it was included in the box set, Frank Sinatra in Hollywood 1940–1964, yet the song was recorded by the band, Sweet, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
The Man with the Golden Arm was truly a ground-breaking work and Ol’ Blue Eyes’ convincing performance as the film’s main character was instrumental in changing the types of stories we’re able to see on the big screen today. It’s truly amazing how much Sinatra has contributed to American popular culture and I’m eternally grateful for all he’s given us.