The Man with the Golden Arm
- Directed by:
- Otto Preminger
- Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin
When director Otto Preminger asked Saul Bass to design a poster for the film he was so taken by the “jagged arm” symbol that he asked Bass to design titles using the same elements.
The subject of the film was a jazz musician’s struggle to overcome his heroin addiction, a taboo subject in the mid-’50s. Bass decided to create a controversial title sequence to match the film’s controversial subject. He chose the arm as the central image, as the arm is a strong image relating to drug addiction. The titles featured an animated, black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict and caused quite a sensation.
“PROJECTIONISTS – PULL CURTAIN BEFORE TITLES”.
This is the text of a note that was stuck on the cans when the reels of film for “The Man With the Golden Arm” arrived at US movie theatres in 1955.
Before the mid-1950s, all credits were shown at the beginning of a film. These sequences were often quite static. Audiences resented them and projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished.
The title sequence Bass created for The man with the golden arm would change this for good and set the bar for what has become an essential popular art.
“Bass fashioned title sequences into an art, creating in some cases, a mini-film within a film. His graphic compositions in movement function as a prologue to the movie – setting the tone, providing the mood and foreshadowing the action.” — Martin Scorsese
“My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.” — Saul Bass
The man with the golden arm woke everybody up and said: “This is what the potential is for main titles. You thought this was just a throw-away kind of thing where we just put the type up and noone really designs it.” And Saul Bass said:“Hey, wait a minute designers, directors, here’s an opportunity for us, to take advantage of this real estate at the beginning of a movie and use it to help tell the story or just use it to make something real interesting or beautiful,” and everybody woke up.— Kyle Cooper, in the documentary “Saul Bass, title champ”