A great play but just a good movie, GUYS AND DOLLS fails to convey the charm that the magnificent stylized stage version brought to the unique world inhabited by Damon Runyon's characters, despite the collaboration of some very talented people. Both Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra are
miscast, but after paying a fortune for the rights to the play, Samuel Goldwyn was not about to give the unknowns who starred on the stage a chance at the movie, and only Vivian Blaine, Johnny Silver, Stubby Kaye, and B.S. Pully made the stage-to-screen transition. (Goldwyn was to be disappointed
by the film's box office nevertheless.) Sinatra is Nathan Detroit, proprietor of "the oldest permanent floating crap game in New York," and he's got a problem: the town is loaded with high-stakes players, but, hounded by Police Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith), he can't find a place for the game. That
isn't all that's troubling Nathan, however; his girl friend of 14 years (Vivian Blaine) wants him to give up the dice biz, settle down, and marry her. Needing $1,000 to secure a location for his game, Nathan bets Sky Masterson (Brando) that the wealthy high roller can't persuade Sarah Brown (Jean
Simmons), a straight-arrow mission worker, to accompany him to Havana. Sky manages to get Sarah to Cuba under false pretenses, then, captivated by her ingenuousness, not only doesn't seduce her (losing the bet), but decides to make good on his promise to deliver a dozen sinners to her struggling
storefront Save-a-Soul mission. As the story moves to its conclusion, Lt. Brannigan closes in on Nathan's game, but Sarah comes to the rescue, and before the credits roll there's a joyous double wedding.
Using Runyon's short story "The Idylls of Sarah Brown" as their source material, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling created what may well be the quintessential American musical, and though Joseph L. Mankiewicz had never directed a musical before, he managed to produce as good a film adaptation as could
be expected given the casting. The dialog is faithful to Runyon--with nary a contraction spoken--and every one of Frank Loesser's deceptively simple songs is a smash, though a few tunes were cut from the original score and some new ones written for the film. Among the film's musical highlights are
"My Time of Day," a paean to the late-night life heard only in the background, and Regis Toomey's singing of "More I Cannot Wish You." Unfortunately, one of the original's best songs, "I've Never Been in Love Before," was replaced, probably because Brando's reedy baritone couldn't hit the notes.
Despite the flaws, GUYS AND DOLLS is plenty of fun, but one wonders how much better it would have been if Goldwyn had cast it with more of an eye to the original material. Tellingly, Gene Kelly was originally selected to play Sky, but MGM wouldn't release him, a crying shame.
The film was nominated for four Oscars--Best Color Art Direction, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Costume Design, and Best Scoring of Musical Picture. It lost on all counts (the wonderful OKLAHOMA! won the scoring award). Songs include "My Time of Day," "More I Cannot Wish You," "Guys and
Dolls," "Fugue for Tinhorns," "Follow the Fold," "Sue Me," "Take Back Your Mink," "If I Were a Bell," "Luck Be a Lady," "Pet Me, Poppa" (replacing the stage version's smash "A Bushel and a Peck"), "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," "I'll Know," "A Woman in Love," "The Oldest Established,"
"Adelaide's Lament," and "Adelaide" (Frank Loesser). leave a comment