Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1955. Otto Preminger Films. Screenplay by Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer, based on the novel by Nelson Algren. Cinematography by Sam Leavitt. Produced by Otto Preminger. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Production Design by Joseph C. Wright. Film Editing by Louis R. Loeffler. Academy Awards 1955.
Outstanding look at drug addiction by filmmaker Otto Preminger that is surprisingly not as dated as could be expected. Frank Sinatra is excellent as a recovering junkie who gets out of rehab and goes back to his crummy Chicago neighbourhood, immediately thrust back into the provocations that landed him in trouble the first time around. His physically disabled wife (Eleanor Parker) perpetually guilts him for the car accident that he caused that landed her in a wheelchair, discouraging his desire to break into a new career as a drummer and pushing him to go back to being a backroom card dealer for crooked poker players. His attempts to get out of this nasty racket are seemingly impossible in a perpetually rotten atmosphere, which has been designed and photographed beautifully by Preminger and company, Sinatra’s companions the kind of guys that would make you shoot up instantly. The one ray of hope in our hero’s life is a dancehall girl (Kim Novak) with not only a heart of gold but also the only moral resolve around. Preminger is in his usual mode as provocateur, flouting the censors by showing what at that point were brazenly graphic scenes involving drug abuse, but even if those images are tame compared to the sort of thing that Pulp Fiction has long since made de rigeur in small-time-hood cinema, the drama with which it is played out here is powerful. The only sour point is the casting of Parker in a role that she outclasses far too easily; she is a superb actress who delivers her dialogue brilliantly, but doesn’t quite convince as a trashy and resentful stone around Sinatra’s neck, and her manipulative behavior (which lends the film more than its fair share of unnecessary misogyny in putting Sinatra’s failings on her) doesn’t seem honest (screenwriter Walter Newman was vocally angry about her casting and wanted Shelley Winters in the role, likely because she had a played a similar character a few years earlier in A Place In The Sun).