“Man With the Golden Arm” Opens Without Hollywood Seal of Approval; Code Challenged
The film The Man With the Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra, opened in New York City on this day without a Hollywood Code Seal of Approval. Based on a novel of the same name by Nelson Algren, the film deals directly with drugs and drug addiction, which were forbidden by the 1934 Hollywood Production Code (June 13, 1934).
Producer-director Otto Preminger decided to challenge the Code’s prohibition on the treatment of drugs. The production code officials formally denied a Seal of Approval for the film on December 6th, but Preminger went ahead and released the film anyway. (Releasing a film without a seal of approval could potentially cost United Artists, the distributor, a fine of $25,000.) The New York state Regents, on the other hand, approved the film for release.
The film was a critical and popular success, and it earned Sinatra an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, although he did not win. The film is also well-known for the outstanding jazz soundtrack, composed by Elmer Bernstein, and performed by a group of first-rate jazz musicians. The best-known track from the soundtrack is “Frankie Machine.”
The controversy over the film, along with other events, caused the major Hollywood producers to relax some of the restrictions in the Production Code. In 1961 it granted The Man with the Golden Arm a seal of approval, which facilitated its re-release.
Preminger is also important for ending the Hollywood blacklist when on January 20, 1960 he announced that he was hiring the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the script for Exodus. (On the blacklist, go to December 3, 1947. On Trumbo’s blacklisting, go to October 28, 1947.)
Read: Foster Hirsch, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King (2007)
Learn more: Frank Walsh, Sin and Censorship: The Catholic Church and the Motion Picture Industry (1996)
Read about the history of the different Hollywood codes: http://productioncode.dhwritings.com/intro.php
And also: http://censorshipinfilm.wordpress.com/resources/production-code-1934/