GUYS AND DOLLS (director/writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenwriters: from the short story The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown by Damon Runyon/from the play with the libretto by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Frank Loesser; cast: Marlon Brando (Sky Masterson), Jean Simmons (Sergeant Sarah Brown), Frank Sinatra (Nathan Detroit), Vivian Blaine(Miss Adelaide), Robert Keith (Lt. Brannigan), Johnny Silver (Benny Southstreet), Stubby Kaye (Nicely Nicely Johnson), B.S. Pully (Big Jule), Sheldon Leonard (Harry The Horse), Dan Dayton (Rusty Charlie), George E. Stone (Society Max); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel Goldwyn; MGM; 1955)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“The Honey Pot”/”Julius Caesar”/”Sleuth”) lost control of this pic as he in an uninspiring manner directs Damon Runyon’s entertaining lightweight classic about a colorful Broadway gambler who bets he can win the love of a Salvation Army gal. It’s adapted from the play written by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling. Besides the story being Hollywoodized, outdated and the comedy falling flat, it’s also overlong and too talky. On paper it featured a sterling cast, but those not from the play for the most part underachieve (Brando is fine acting, but he can’t carry a tune in the musical numbers). Yet the lush musical, in the renown MGM tradition, has many things going for it including many lively musical numbers (such as “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “Sue Me,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Luck Be A Lady” and, the showstopper, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”) and the brilliance of Michael Kidd’s choreography.
It’s set in New York’s underworld of Times Square in 1938. Gambler Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), who maintains the “Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York,” needs big money to promote his latest floating crap game; the only place available, the Biltmore Garage, wants $1000 up front. So he schemes to bet with the womanizing high-roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that Sky cannot seduce the prudish Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons). Nathan’s other problem is that Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), his burlesque showgirl fiancée for the last fourteen years, is upset that he hasn’t married her and has developed a psychosomatic cold.
The pressure to get the crap game going mounts when Midwestern gangster Big Jule (B.S. Pulley) arrives and expects action. When Sky takes Sarah on a date to Havana, the gamblers hold the crap game in the mission. The gamblers get nervous at their heavy losses and contrive all sorts of hedge bets; but after all the gambling action, Runyon talk and dire situations, it eventually leads to a happy romantic ending that involves a double wedding.
The stale studio-bound musical (there were no location shots) has an artificial stagy look. To its credit it has many colorful Broadway characters that include: Johnny Silver, Stubby Kaye and Sheldon Leonard as gamblers and Robert Keith as the friendly cop. Reportedly Brando and Sinatra did not get along and caused tension on the set as their spat divided up the cast, who chose sides. Evidently Sinatra went into a jealous fit because he wanted Brando’s romantic lead part that he thought he was more qualified to play. He therefore refused to play his Nathan Detroit in character, as a heavily Bronx accented neurotic Jew, and instead opted to play him as a romantic lead.
REVIEWED ON 5/2/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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