I hated musicals as a kid. They were full of people who broke out into song at any given moment.
‘I’m off to the corner shop, tra la la la. Anyone want anything? Tra la la’
But then I saw the film version of Guys and Dolls from 1955, I guess in the early 90s and I stopped being such a plank. It helped that by the time I got to it, I was already a massive fan of Frank Sinatra and Marlo Brando, so to have both of them in their prime, performing together, well I had to see that. And yes of course, I loved it. The clobber, the sets, the colours and yes, even those damn clever songs.
The premise of the film was based on the Broadway musical of the same name from 1950, which was itself based on a short story from 1933 ‘The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown’ and ‘Blood Pressure’ both by the celebrated writer Damon Runyan.
The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starred as mentioned not only Marlon and Frank but also Jean Simmons as Sarah, Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide and Stubby Kaye as Nicely Nicely Johnson. Set in New York City, Guys and Dolls follows the lives of two main characters: Sky Masterson – Brando – a charismatic and high-stakes gambler, and Nathan Detroit – Sinatra – a small-time hustler who runs illegal craps (that’s dice to you pal) games. The story revolves around the dodgy gambling pursuits and hoped for romantic conquest, of the main characters, including Sarah, a devout Salvation Army missionary, and Miss Adelaide, a nightclub performer and Nathan’s long-standing fiancée, whilst trying to stay one step ahead of the heat laid down by Lieutenant Brannigan of the NYPD.
The highlights of the film are of course its memorable musical numbers, composed by Frank Loesser. The film is absolutely riddled with classic songs such as Luck Be a Lady, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, Sue Me, Fugue for Tinhorns, If I Were a Bell and Adelaide. These toe-tapping tunes have become iconic, and their catchy melodies and clever lyrics continue to resonate with audiences today.
The performances in Guys and Dolls are a true testament to the talent of the cast. Brando, primarily known for his dramatic roles, surprised audiences with his portrayal of Masterson. Despite not being a trained singer, Brando demonstrated his versatility by delivering a captivating performance and holding his own in the musical numbers. Frank, on the other hand, showcased his smooth voice and charismatic charm as the lovable Nathan Detroit. The on-screen chemistry between Brando and Sinatra added depth and humour to their characters’ interactions, making their on-screen dynamic a highlight of the film.
Off-screen however, it is said the relationship was a little ‘strained,; with Frank being quoted as telling the director Mankiewicz…
‘When Mumbles is through rehearsing, I’ll come out.’
Among the well-known names who were originally considered for the main parts, were Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe for Adelaide Gene Kelly as Sky and Deborah Kerr and Grace Kelly as Sarah.
Ultimately though, Jean Simmons portrayed Sarah Brown with grace and vulnerability, capturing the conflict between her duty as a missionary and her growing feelings for Masterson. Vivian Blaine, who had originated the role of Miss Adelaide on Broadway, reprised her role in the film, infusing the character with humour and warmth.
In addition to its stellar cast and memorable music, the film is visually stunning. Its colourful costumes and vibrant sets capture the essence of 1950s New York City, creating an immersive and lively atmosphere. The choreography by Michael Kidd adds energy and excitement to the musical numbers, with dynamic dance sequences that further enhance the film’s entertainment value.
Another highlight for me, is the supporting cast, which is full of broken nosed lumps with names like Benny South Street, Society Max, Harry the Horse and Rusty Charlie.
Not surprisingly the film received critical acclaim upon its release and became a commercial success, becoming the number one money making film of 1956 .
‘An escapist and inventive cinemascope delight, Guys and Dolls glistens thanks to the charm of its ensemble. The casting is good all the way.’
It garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. The film’s enduring popularity has led to numerous revivals of the stage musical, which continues to this day, ensuring that the story and its characters continue to captivate audiences across generations.
With its infectious music, charismatic performances, and entertaining storyline, it remains a classic in the musical film genre. The film’s ability to combine romance, comedy, and music in a seamless and enjoyable way has solidified its place in cinema history.
Decades after its release, it continues to be cherished by audiences worldwide for its timeless charm and enduring appeal.
The Mumper of SE5
ART GALLERY CLOTHING
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 3 – AVAILABLE NOW
THE SPEAKEASY Volume Three by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Eddie Piller
Sign up to our newsletter and receive an exclusive promo code, latest news & Art Gallery Clothing offers.