Guys and Dolls – 1955
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Abe Burrows, Jo Swerling, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Based on the stories of Damon Runyon
Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) runs “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York,” but due to unfortunate efforts of police officer Lt. Brannigan, he is unable to find a place to hold this week’s game. Nathan also has to deal with the fact that his longtime girlfriend Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) is pestering him to get married. Lucky for him the famous gambler Skye Masterson (Marlon Brando) is in town. Skye has proven that he is willing to bet on anything, so Nathan needs to find a way to bilk Skye for $1000 so he can rent a place to hold the crap game. The Salvation Army has just set up a mission that is being run by the devout Miss Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), and Nathan bets Skye that he cannot get Sarah to go on a date with him to Cuba.
Most people generally regard this film as a disappointment, but I like it a lot. The whole movie maintains a wonderful, breezy tone that makes it a lot of fun. Frank Sinatra is excellent as the goofy Nathan Detroit. Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye both reprise their roles from the stage show, so they already have their characters down pat. The beautiful (I have a thing for brunettes) Jean Simmons’ English upbringing allows her to give “Sarah Brown” that perfect holier-than-thou attitude. But Marlon Brando!? What the hell is he doing here? His style is completely out of place, trying to infuse his role with overwrought emotion while everyone else is just having fun. The film is also obviously completely shot indoors on sound stages, and this ends up sapping much of the energy that could be obtained from doing exterior photography. The running time is 149 minutes, which ends up feeling a bit long. The movie would have seemed a lot tighter of they had cut some of the scenes from Skye and Sarah’s date in Cuba.
The songs are all very catchy, especially “The Oldest Established…” and the title song “Guys and Dolls.” Stubby Kaye practically steals the show with his rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” For some reason the film version does not contain “A Bushel and A Peck,” probably due to issues with the running time. Unfortunately due to their character choice, Sinatra ends up singing the novelty songs, while Brando does all of the love songs and “Luck Be A Lady.” The love songs are much more suited to Sinatra’s crooning style and I can’t help but think that this movie would have been better if they had at least switched roles, if not gotten rid of Brando altogether. You cannot get the soundtrack to this film on CD, only copies of the various stage incarnations.
Pay special attention to the speech patterns of the gangsters in this movie, especially Sheldon Leonard as Harry the Horse. It is obvious the writers on “The Simpsons” used this style in the creation of Fat Tony and his gang. There are several other Guys and Dolls references sprinkled throughout the series.
Overall, a happy little musical, but it could have been better.
Luke be a Jedi tonight!