The Man With The Golden Arm - The Film Behind My Tattoo

08/09/2016 16:47 | Updated 09 September 2016

There are far more obscure films to have permanently inscribed on your inner forearm, but none, I suggest, that cause so many people to read it aloud twice and get it so wrong. The Man with the Golden Arm was released back in 1955 - without the approval of the censors due to explicit scenes of drug taking - and starred Frank Sinatra, on a high (pun intended) from recent popular jaunty musicals Young at Heart and Guys and Dolls.

It was highly controversial and directed by Otto Preminger, one of the top directors in the world at the time, and featured a superstar in Sinatra next to the ultimate blonde bombshell, a young Kim Novak, who was to appear in Alfred Hitchcock's The Vertigo three years later.

Yet for the many, many people who have looked at my arm on the underground, while serving me in public houses or just sitting around chatting, the film is a mystery, unknown, and they assume it is a tattooing error, the mistake to end all everlasting mistakes, and I intended it to be a James Bond film.

Not being a huge fan of classic James Bond (not withstanding the first few Ian Fleming books), I am led to believe that The Man with the Golden Gun is a pretty leaden outing, held up only by the wondrous Christopher Lee as the nemesis, Scaramanga (he of the third nipple). And it stars bloody Roger Moore, the blandest and most unbelievable Bond ever.

To make it clear: tattoos are not cool, big or clever, they rarely reveal hidden parts of the soul within meaningful splatters and the people that say they do are lying - but I would NEVER have the name of a James Bond film emblazoned on my arm.

So time after time, I end up explaining the plot of The Man with the Golden Arm in my now well-rehearsed patter, and it goes a little something like this (spoilers from 1955 ahead).

"So there is this guy, right, played by Frank Sinatra - that's right, the singer - anyway, he plays an ex-junkie who returns to a Chicago slum after a spell in jail for using heroin. Hence the man with the golden arm.

"But, he wants out of that world, so is auditioning to become a jazz drummer - the second meaning of the man with the golden arm.

"His wife is in a wheelchair, so he feels guilty about knocking about with Kim Novak on the side - as you would. Anyway, she persuades him to bring in the cash by dealing poker cards - the THIRD use of a man with the golden arm. I know, clever right? No, the wife persuades him, not Kim.

"So he is tempted back to the life of a 24-hour poker dealer, goes back on the smack, fails his drumming audition and ends up going cold turkey in Novak's room.

"Turns out, his wheelchair-ridden wife was just pretending to be wheelchair-ridden to keep Frank - sorry, Frankie Machine, that's his character's name - feeling sorry for her.

"So she ends up killing herself when he catches her walking around and he finally escapes the drugs and poker with Novak. The end."

As it transpires, there are more twists, turns and nuances in this nigh-on two-hour drug-fuelled romp based on Nelson Algren's novel of the same name than I mention when describing my tattoo to strangers. It is not as dark as the book, but was certainly seen as shameful by the audience of the time, not least for the infamous cold turkey scene.

Critics cite the fact Sinatra seems to kick the habit through sheer willpower, but even today, seeing his character root through Novak's drawers and personal belongings for drugs, while tearfully begging her to open the locked door is not a million miles away from the shock-and-awe tactics of Danny Boyle's Trainspotting.

Indeed, it is rare to see drugs treated in a realistic fashion on the silver screen at any point (a word out to Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes, which back in 2004 portrayed a rather amusing but yet extremely accurate scene of three men fiercely tripping on a cocktail of narcotics before being executed) so back in the 1950s, a cold turkey scene was seen as the height of provocation.

So there you go, the film behind the story of my tattoo. Next week: why my favourite book is carved on my other forearm and the 'hilarious' coincidence of it also containing the word 'arm'.