|Guys & Dolls (1952)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Robert Keith, Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pulley, Johnny Silver, and the Goldwyn Girls
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Some of you young punks might think you’re too cool to appreciate a musical, but let me tell you right now: no one’s cool enough to blow off a movie starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. Not you, not me…nobody.
“Guys and Dolls,” like so many musical of the ‘40s and ‘50s, was adapted from a Broadway production; it was written by Frank Loesser, who later composed “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” (and, earlier in his career, had already earned eternal fame by writing the oft-covered romantic standard, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). Loesser’s source material, however, was the work of author Damon Runyon, who created the immortal characters Nathan Detroit, Sky Masterson, Miss Adelaide, and Miss Sarah Brown in his short story, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.”
The plot of “Guys and Dolls” goes like this: Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) runs the oldest established floating crap game in New York, but when he’s put under pressure to find a place to hold a game at the last second, the only available place requires a thousand-dollar deposit, which he doesn’t have. Detroit thinks he can get the grand he needs from gambler Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), betting him that he can’t talk a sister at the Save a Soul Mission (Jean Simmons) into going to dinner with him…in Havana! While Masterson is trying to win his bet, Detroit has his own woman problems; he’s trying to run his crap game without his longtime girlfriend, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), finding out, even as he tries to get her to cool her jets about wanting to get married. (What’s her hurry? They’ve only been together for fourteen years!)
The selection of Marlon Brando to play the role of Sky Masterson was one which raised eyebrows, given that he’d never sung or danced professionally, but given that his role involves far more acting than singing, Brandon succeeds admirably. Okay, maybe he over-emotes a bit during “Luck Be a Lady,” but his vocals are quite acceptable. Sinatra, unsurprisingly, is great…but, then, playing a hood probably came rather naturally to a skinny Italian kid from the streets of Brooklyn. Vivian Blaine was the one crossover from the original Broadway production, and she plays the role of a New York showgirl to perfection. The songs are top-notch, with the aforementioned “Luck Be a Lady” being the best remembered, but one listen to “Fugue for Tin Horns” and you’ll recognize the lyrics (“Can do / Can do / The guy says the horse can do”). There’s also the title track, but let us not forget Stubby Kaye’s turn at the microphone for “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat.” The choreography by Michael Kidd, who also worked on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Hello, Dolly,” is brilliant throughout, though it particularly shines during the instrumentals “Runyon Land” and “The Crap Game Dance.”
“Guys and Dolls” is first and foremost a love story, then a musical second, but there are also some great comedic turns by the various gangsters and gamblers, not to mention the performances of the four leads, that keep things entertaining beyond just the songs.
First off, anyone who’s ever complained about buying a DVD that didn’t include a booklet will be beside themselves when they check out the 72-page scrapbook that’s included with this deluxe edition. There are movie poster reproductions, news clippings, a ton of photos, and an in-depth history of the film. Included on the DVD itself are two well-done documentaries, “From Stage to Screen” and “The Goldwyn Touch,” as well as a few extra stories about the making of the film which didn’t fit into either documentary. In addition to a photo gallery, there’s also a feature which allows you to skip directly to the musical numbers, but, for some reason, it only allows you to select from six of the sixteen songs.