Here we go…
Guys and Dolls is quite the show. I first heard the music in college when my voice teacher showed us clips from the 1992 revival starring Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince, Nathan Lane, and Josie de Guzman and liked it so much I bought the soundtrack album. However, I’ve never seen the 1955 movie until now. How did it stack up compared to the Broadway version? Well, let’s see here…
Few things are above the board in Guys and Dolls. In its world, everyone is doing something shady, whether it’s reading racing forms, nipping pocket watches, or selling snake oil. The few missionaries in town find themselves shouted down and overshadowed. Yet somehow everyone seems goodhearted and relatively harmless.
Top of the heap is Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), who runs the greatest floating craps game in New York. The police try their hardest to pin him down but whenever they get close Nathan moves everything to a new location as if it’s all a Mad Tea Party but with gambling. Now Nathan needs a thousand dollars to reserve a spot at the Biltmore for the game.
Meanwhile, Nathan’s faithful and longsuffering fiance, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) has been waiting for fourteen years to get married but Nathan keeps dragging his feet. Adelaide is allergic to being put off, but there’s nothing she can do but keep on waiting. Oh, and she’s not a fan of Nathan’s ongoing craps game and wants him to start living a normal life. Oh, and her mother in Rhode Island thinks she’s already married with five children.
Also at the top of the heap is Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), who’s a rolling stone just passing through. He and Nathan are good acquaintances, and to help Nathan out the two make a bet that Sky can get Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of the Save A Soul Mission to go to Havana with him.
Sergeant Sarah might be a tough nut to crack, though. Her mission is in danger of closing because no one’s interested in being saved. Sky, however, talks his way in by pretending he wants to be free of his gambling addiction and Sarah is less than impressed. Sky’s knowledge of the Bible is considerable, though, seeing as he’s read a lot of Gideon editions in hotel rooms, and he ends up making a bargain with Sarah: If she’ll come to Havana with him, he’ll see that she gets twelve sinners to attend her Midnight Mission meeting.
At first Sarah is more concerned with keeping her nose in her guide book and reciting fun facts about the various churches and other points of interest in Havana, but Sky has other ideas, sneakily ordering dulces de leche and telling Sarah they’re milkshakes. Needless to say, Sarah loosens up very quickly and even gets into a brawl when another woman makes eyes at Sky on the dance floor.
Meanwhile, back at the mission, there’s a lot going on. Nathan is still looking to hold his craps game somewhere, Adelaide is still looking to get married, and the cops are still looking to shut Nathan down. And that Midnight Meeting is fast approaching.
OK. The movie is a lot of fun. It has plenty of flow to it, featuring numbers with very few cuts in them such as the opening scene, which quickly sets the pace. There are a lot of reds, light browns, and pale greens in the day scenes, giving everything a stage-y feel and very nineteen-fifties. Michael Kidd’s choreography is fantastic as usual, with a lot of leaping around on the part of the gamblers. Frank Sinatra croons impressively, as do Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, who both did their own singing and not too shabbily, either.
And of course, there’s Vivian Blaine, who originated the role of Adelaide on Broadway and then came to Hollywood to recreate it. It seems as if every Adelaide since Blaine hearkens back to her original turn in some way, particularly on “Adelaide’s Lament,” which sounds easy musically but which needs the broadest of Brooklyn accents and no small amount of frustrated wonder at Adelaide being left out in the cold.
However, I have to say that I prefer the Broadway show. For one thing, the casting in the film is a little weird. I never pictured Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit, although Sinatra makes a game effort, and he certainly had the mafia cred, but he’s not enough of a goofball to be half of a comic couple. Plus, he doesn’t sing nearly enough.
That distinction goes to Marlon Brando, who, like I said, did a respectable job and sold the songs very well from an acting standpoint, but vocally he’s a bit weak, especially on “Luck Be A Lady,” which requires a lot of confidence and verve. It’s the proverbial “Go big or go home.” I kept wishing the movie would tweak things so Sinatra could sing it. In short, he should have played Sky, Sure, it’s a smaller part, but vocally it would have fit him much better:
As is often the case with films of Broadway musicals, at least some of the original songs got the axe, and this was the fate of five of Guys and Dolls’ numbers. The most unfortunate and unkindest cut of all is the classic “A Bushel And A Peck” getting booted for “Pet Me Poppa.”
Yeah. They switched out this cute little number…
…for this cringe-fest. Really, it defies description.
Other songs that got the boot were “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” “Marry the Man Today,” and “More I Cannot Wish You,” which I think was really unfortunate because they’re beautiful. I’m sure they were cut because the movie was running long, but on the other hand a lot of character development went with those songs and it’s a shame.
Still, the movie is a good time and I’m glad I finally got to see it. It makes me want to pull out my old soundtrack album again. 🙂
More Broadway can be found here. Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for Day Two…
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