Otto Preminger defied the Code with this pioneering look at drug addiction, featuring a stylish rendering of the post-war hipster milieu, a crisp jazz soundtrack, and a remarkable Sinatra.
Crooked card dealer Frankie Machine (Sinatra), a junkie trying to stay clean, is back in town after six months in rehab. He wants to try his luck as a jazz drummer, but his resentful, crippled wife Zosch (Parker) demands that he return to his old job. Frankie later falls hard for B-girl Molly
(Novak), and pursues his musical dreams in secret at her place. Finally securing an audition, he attempts to leave his old racket, but his boss (Strauss) prevails upon him to handle one last rigged marathon poker game. Professional and personal tensions only make the recurring offers of a drug
pusher (McGavin) more tempting.
To some extent, Preminger's slickness clashes with the gritty realism of the screenplay, based on Nelson Algren's best-selling novel. Stang, in a rare dramatic outing for a man who usually played the comic flunky (beginning with Henry Morgan's radio show in the 1940s), is a standout as Frankie's
slightly retarded pal. The typically stiff Novak has little to do except look pretty and act concerned, while the over-the-top Parker never hits the right mix of self-hatred and pity. Sinatra, by contrast, is superb, especially in a harrowing withdrawal scene. It's his movie...all the way.
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