Guys and Dolls
Joseph L Mankiewicz’s musical starring Brando and Sinatra returns to the big screen
The gritty, gutsy, funny short stories of Damon Runyon form the basis for this most rousing and delightful of big studio musicals, which boasts Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, a smart script and some of the best screen songs ever.
The setting is a cheerfully corrupt New York underworld of gamblers and showgirls, among whom Salvation Army-style soldiers are optimistically attempting to save souls. Much to Sinatra’s reported pique, and over the originally mooted Gene Kelly, Brando got the glamour part: that of legendary gambler Sky Masterson, who can never resist taking a bet. Sinatra’s lovable lowlife, Nathan Detroit, hopes to exploit this weakness to solve the cash-flow problem that’s preventing his pet project, ‘the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,’ from going ahead.
The sure-fire wager Nathan comes up with involves Sky attempting to puncture the piety of a certain ‘doll’ - the lovely but determinedly virtuous missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) – by whisking her off on a slightly ungodly jaunt to Cuba. Meanwhile, all Nathan’s long-suffering fiancée Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) wants is for him to make good on his fourteen-year-old promise to marry her.
Fans of the stage show will know or notice that some great Frank Loesser songs were cut from this 1955 film version and some not-so-great ones added, but there’s still no shortage of absolute showstoppers, from the burlesque numbers Adelaide performs at the Hot Box nightclub, to the majestic likes of ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin' the Boat’, ‘Fugue for Tinhorns’ and ‘Luck Be a Lady’.
It’s a bit of a shame the production went for such stagey sets, instead of evoking a more authentic New York; but this remains an escapist, sing-along joy with a winning edge of grown-up wit, making for a perfect festive season night out for anyone fond of a splash of old-school style.
Selected re-release from Fri 19 Dec.