Guys And Dolls

Guys And Dolls

****

Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

Legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn and first-time musical director Joseph Mankiewicz's brightly stylised version of Frank Loesser's classic Broadway musical is a glorious feast for the eyes and ears.

Shot as it would appear on stage, with studio-confined, overly theatrical sets and many of the stage show's performers, the movie is as close to Broadway as you are likely to get on the silver screen. Also, a stellar cast lines up in this New York fable of gamblers, thugs, nightclub singers, Christian missionaries and true love.

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Frank Sinatra stars as Nathan Detroit, organiser of the "oldest established floating crap game in New York." He needs to raise $1000 to stage a game in a local garage, but is having trouble raising the dough, so bets high-roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that he can't take prudish Save A Soul Mission sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) to Havana with him. What no one would have given odds on was that ladies man Sky might fall head over heels for Saintly Sarah, or that she might feel the same for such a smooth cad.

On its release, Guys And Dolls drew immediate interest as the movie in which Brando sings. His casting as Sky seems odd, given that Ole Blue Eyes was on board, but Goldwyn knew he would attract crowds, eager to see if a Method actor of Brando's intensity (A Streetcar Named Desire) and dramatic style (On The Waterfront) could carry a tune and dance.

Sadly, his pipes aren't the best and he struggles through ballads, such as I'll Know and Woman In Love. Many of Sky's big numbers from the original show, like My Time Of Day, were cut, due to his lack of vocal skills, although they appear as instrumentals in the background.

From an acting point of view, however, Brando is flawless. He approaches his role, not as a singer, but as a character, which makes Sky magnetic, sexy and thoroughly loveable. His dancing isn't much to write home about, either, and had me cringing and hiding behind the sofa quicker than a screen full of Daleks. While his rendition of Luck Be A Lady may not be as impressive as if Sinatra had sung it, he brings such brio and personality to the performance it is a highlight of the movie.

Sinatra, on the other hand, is left with novelty numbers, such as Guys And Dolls and The Oldest Established. But he gets his chance wirh Sue Me and the beautiful Adelaide, a touching tribute to Nathan's fiancé of 14 years, played wonderfully by Vivian Blaine, who steals every scene she is in, as the desperate-to-wed burlesque singer. Adelaide's Lament, about how her permanent cold is a result of her desire to tie the knot, is one of the most amusing, yet emotional, numbers in the movie.

Her fellow Broadway veterans, Stubby Kaye and Johnny Silver, as loveable rogues Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, also outshine their more famous co-stars and Kaye's fast-paced Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat will have you singing along after one chorus.

The movie is a bit long and doesn't have the polish of classic musicals, such as Singin' In The Rain, or The Sound Of Music, but there is much to enjoy with two love stories, crooked gamblers, plenty of comedy and, of course, the classic tunes, teamed with high energy, exciting choreography from Michael Kidd.

The rumour mill suggests Hugh Jackman has signed up to play Sky in a remake next year, so don't miss this original Fifties classic... even if it's only to see how badly Brando dances.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2006
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The Broadway musical of crooks, gamblers and a Sally Army sergeant, called Sarah.
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Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Writer: Joseph L Mankiewicz, Ben Hecht, based on the story The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown by Damon Runyon and the book for the musical play by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling

Starring: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Robert Keith, Stubby Kaye, B S Pulley, Johnny Silver, Sheldon Leonard, Regis Toomey

Year: 1955

Runtime: 150 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

Festivals:

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