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Saturday, December 12, 2015

GUYS AND DOLLS - Movie Review by Porfle

That singing sensation, Marlon Brando, possessed the star power in 1955 to bump Frank Sinatra out of the lead role in GUYS AND DOLLS, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical based on the stories of Damon Runyon. 

As slick gambler Sky Masterson, Brando's soft but earnest singing style benefits from a strong acting foundation while Frank, in the lesser role of illegal crap game promoter Nathan Detroit, skillfully invests his own Frank Loesser-penned songs with more heart and depth than that character has ever shown before. 

Mankiewicz explores the colorfully stagey Times Square settings with a cinematic zest that is eye-filling and constantly appealing, while the cast bring all the denizens of the streets to vivid life.  Small-time hustlers such as Stubby Kaye's "Nicely-Nicely", Sheldon Leonard's "Harry the Horse", and B.S. Pully's "Big Jule" all get their moments to shine (Kaye's "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" is a joy as is the opening number, "Fugue For Tinhorns") as con men work the bustling crowds and sewers host shady criminal activities.

The story gives equal emphasis to its two love stories, one of which involves Nathan Detroit and the lead burlesque dancer at the Hot Box club, Miss Adelaide (a terrific Vivian Blaine).  They've been engaged for fourteen years and heartsick Adelaide is pressing Nathan to quit his floating crap game business and settle down with her or else.  He wants to host one final big game first, but can't find a location for it with local cop Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) breathing down his neck. 

Meanwhile, Sky Masterson is starting to fall for rigidly straitlaced "Save-A-Soul" missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) after betting Nathan that he can persuade her to accompany him to Havana.  This he does by promising to deliver at least twelve sinners to her next prayer meeting, but while they're away (during which he gets her sloppy drunk), a crap game is held in her mission.  Sarah accuses Sky of setting the whole thing up on purpose, creating a rift between them. 

With a meatier, more offbeat, and somewhat seamier story than many musicals, GUYS AND DOLLS is solid adult-oriented fun that keeps its pace up despite being somewhat overlong.  There's a fascination to watching Brando broadening his acting horizons this way, giving it his all while not quite coming across as a bonafide singing star.  His big song, the show-stopper "Luck Be a Lady Tonight", suffers from our knowledge of how much better Sinatra would've sung it (and indeed often did). 

Be that as it may, Frank makes the most of his character and his charming scenes with Vivian Blaine, who gives the film's best performance as Adelaide.  Lovely Jean Simmons also gives her all as Sarah Brown, with her own distinctive singing style.  (None of the leads were dubbed.)  And as a splendid example of how to transform a popular stage musical into top-notch screen entertainment, GUYS AND DOLLS stands the test of time with flying colors.


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