The BBFC files: The Man with the Golden Arm

Frank Sinatra’s 1950s turn as a heroin addict in The Man with the Golden Arm pushed at the boundaries of acceptable viewing. The BBFC’s senior archivist Jen Evans unearths the original censor report.

Jen Evans

Arthur Watkins, BBFC Secretary 1947-1958, oversaw the submission of Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), a story about a recovering drug addict who is lured back into his habit.

The Home Office had made it known that they had no objection to films dealing with the subject of addiction, provided that drug-taking was not seen to be attractive and that the profits from dealing were not emphasised. Given this basis, the Board felt able to offer an ‘X’ in 1956 with cuts to details of drug preparation and some incidental violence.

In the sequence where Frank receives a drug injection delete all large close-ups of his face footage after pedlar leans towards him.

Delete all except the first of the blows by gambler on Frank’s face.

Delete low blow by gambler on Frank.

Delete blows on Sparrow [Frank’s thief friend played by Arnold Stang].

It is interesting to note that, while the film had a fairly smooth passage past the Board in the UK, it met with problems with the Production Code in the USA, where the theme of drugs in films was proscribed by the MPAA. The Code was amended in 1956 to allow for the treatment of narcotics as a theme. In 1988 the video was classified by the BBFC at ‘15’, and remains at that category for DVD.

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