|Guys and Dolls (1955).|
Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons are the headliners of "Guys and Dolls" (1955), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for the Samuel L. Goldwyn Company, but they aren't why I like it so much (I have a fancy packaged DVD of it, with the descriptive booklet and all that). Sure, it has evocative NYC locales of the past and that classic Damon Runyon feel (the book is by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows), but the glossy shine and sets hide the real treasures contained within.
|Stubby is pointing at us. Hi, Stubby, Frank, Johnny! We're keepin' it clean!|
Stubby Kaye, where have you gone? If there's one Broadway-style performance I would take to a desert island and watch over and over, it's Stubby doing "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." It's just so awesome. Watch his pauses as his does it, the little nods to the ladies in front of him, the awkward fumbling with the hat - perfection! There are other versions floating around from other productions, but Stubby owns the character and the song.
|Marlon Brando working hard at getting Jean Simmons drunk in "Guys and Dolls."|
Then there's Sheldon Leonard, B.S. Pully in a marvelous turn as the blow-hard gambler Big Jule, scrawny Robert Keith as Lt. Brannigan, and of course the inimitable Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide. I'm not a big fan of her interminable scenes doing her lame nightclub act, which are most definitely not in accord with today's taste, but as a character, she's the tops. "Take back your mink, take back your poils, what made you think I was one of those goils...."
|Frank and the boys singing "Adelaide" in "Guys and Dolls."|
If I have to talk about the headliners, I will admit that Sinatra and Brando probably should have switched roles (which is what Sinatra tried, and failed, to do; Brando was just too big a star). Brando does give a solid presence as Sky, while Sinatra was still not too far past the awkward shy-guy roles that he did in the '40s and so at times is very believable as his hesitant character (Don Knotts in that role would have been unbelievably awesome). Still.... Brando was by far the better actor, and Sinatra by far the better singer, so why they gave Brando the role with the best songs and Sinatra the part with the awkward character situations is beyond me.
|Stubby singing his big number in "Guys and Dolls."|
Jean Simmons does a fine job as Sergeant Sarah Brown, though she doesn't portray some of her character's changes in emotions (such as when she finds out Sky's cronies were using the mission for gambling while she and he were in Havana) as sharply as I might like. The women I know would have started throwing things, or at least sent a sharply worded e-mail, you know what I mean.... But she is convincing as a woman confronting her own forbidden love, and it was a different time.
|Regis Toomey as Arvide Anthony counseling Jean Simmons as Sgt. Sarah Brown in "Guys and Dolls."|
The stage origins of the film are a blessing and a curse. The songs aren't really all that great, aside from "Luck be a Lady" (which Brando NEVER should have been asked to sing, with Sinatra standing right there) and a couple of others like "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Plus, the film is marred by the over-exaggerated dance scenes (such as at the crap game in the sewer) that were so popular in the mid-Fifties and seldom ever again. They were perfect for the stage, not right at all on film. The costumes are colorful, perhaps too colorful for any kind of realism, but they were going for hyper-realism, and it works. And the sets are intentionally impressionistic in a stagey kind of way, which is charming but gets a bit hard on the eyes after a while. And, after Sky and Brown return to New York, are my eyes deceiving me or don't one of those stores have "Havana" as part of their name? Hmmmm....
|Somebody is conning somebody else in "Guys and Dolls."|
But if you can just go with iconic actors playing flamboyant, honorable gangster types, this is the best musical you'll ever see. I will guarantee you that it is the most under-rated.
|Marlon Brando trying to do a deal with Jean Simmons in "Guys and Dolls."|
Anyway, at heart it's all about Sky seducing Brown, and I like that part, even though it doesn't seem to be that hard to do. But Stubby singing "Don't Rock the Boat," now that's sublime. Watch it directly below. After that, just to balance things out, is Frank at his best singing "Adelaide" and Vivian Blaine singing "Take Back Your Mink."