Guys And Dolls
In the fifties one of the most fertile sources of cinematic entertainment was migrating popular plays from Broadway to the silver screen. At this time movies were competing with the growing dominance of television in the primary source for entertainment with the American public. With innovations such as wide screen picture and enhancements in the audio tracks the movie theater provided access to a significantly broader audience in a less formal setting that traditionally associated with the Great White Way. Some the greatest song and dance numbers ever committed to film were done during this time. Soon teams of lyricists and composers were household names with recognition extending far beyond the confines of the theater. The huge screens with robust sound turned the movie house into a place that could do justice to these Broadway classics. When DVD burst on to the home entertainment scene it was only natural that many of these beloved musicals would once again be in high demand. Now the Cinema Scope enhanced color palette and room filling soundtracks that once filled the theaters are even more faithfully reproduced in high definition thanks to a growing number of Blu-ray releases. Among the more recent offerings is a movie that combined one of the all-time great crooners with the original film biker bad boy, ‘Guys and Dolls’. This is a favorite for the enduring legion of fans of Frank Sinatra and oddly juxtaposes his famous velvet voice with the usually nonmusical actor, Marlon Brando. Aficionados of the era will certainly recognize the silky tenor voice of Stubby Kaye, a staple in musical comedies on both stage and screen for decades. Also appearing here is Sheldon Leonard, a popular character actor who made his name in television as a producer working to help create such venerable series as ‘The Dick van Dyke’ series, Í Spy’ and ‘Make Room for Daddy’. Although some might consider this a minor opus when compared to ‘Sound of Music’, ‘West Side Story’ or ‘The King and I’, it remains a significant part of the genre that introduced classic tunes as ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ an ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight’ into the repertoires of many singers. In any case ‘Guys and Dolls’, has made it to a Blu-ray edition brighter and more resounding than ever, rivaling the original stage production.
‘Guys and Dolls’ was produced by one of the pioneers of Hollywood’s golden age and founding father of MGM, Samuel Goldwyn. Sitting in the big chair behind the camera was another industry legend, Joseph L. Mankiewicz; one of the most prolific filmmakers of the golden age of film. His accomplishments included ‘All about Eve’, ‘Julius Caesar’, and ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ not to mention the historical epic that nearly ruined MGM, Cleopatra’. These men were professionals with many years of experience in bringing spectacle and panache to the audience. In those days going to the movies still retained a special feel, not just something to pass an evening. To get the most out of this film it is a good idea to attempt to recreate that mood in your living room. Make some popcorn, turn off the electronics and remove yourself back to a movie theater in the mid-fifties.
The premise for this musical is the unlikely clash of petty criminals, gamblers and domestic missionaries desperately trying to remove their misguided lives. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) is a professional gambler with a predilection for underground crap games. The bane of his professional existence is a certain stalwart of the New York Police force, Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith). He has declared his cause d'etre was to ‘Put the Heat’ on Nathan and his ilk but closing off the potential venues for their covert enterprises. This excessive pressure has made the usual sites suddenly unavailable to him. Finally, a desperate Nathan locates a potential location, a local garage. Unfortunately, there is a sizable catch; the proprietor demands a fee of $1,000; up front, refusing his usual marker. Nathan is taped and unable to scrape up the cash but there is a glimmer of hope in the form of Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando). He is a man willing to bet on just about anything at all. He will bet the requisite grand if Nathan can convince a woman to go off with him to Havana. Always smooth with the ‘dolls’, Nathan sees no problem in winning, that is until Masterson makes his selection; Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a prime and proper Sergeant in a nearby Salvation Army Mission. Noticing her storefront meeting place is empty Nathan promises to round up some sinners to fill the seats. Sarah was desperate to succeed since her superior, General Matilda Cartwright (Kathryn Givney), is about to close the Broadway mission. Adding to the complications his nightclub singer girlfriend, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) wants him to finally take that walk down the aisle after a protracted fourteen year engagement.
This is a musical with some heart to it. At its core it achieves most of the elements necessary to be categorized as a romantic comedy, only one that is sprinkled liberally with lively, upbeat songs and lively dance numbers. The main conflict always found in a rom com is generated not only by the discrepancies in their fundamental moral orientation but by Nathan being caught between his long suffering ‘doll’ and a young woman of some education and religious upbringing. Someone like Nathan Detroit this relationship goes beyond winning a bet and the hopes of a tawdry time in Cuba, Sarah could actually achieve what she signed up for; turning somebody’s life around. The added bonus for many is an appearance of the Chairman of the Board’, eyes, Frank Sinatra. He was just entering his forties at this point already famous for his concerts and recording careers. His film career had branched out allowing him to recognition by the Academy. The same year this film was released, 1955, Sinatra received an Oscar nomination for ‘The Man with a Golden Arm’ and a couple of years after his win for From Here to Eternity’. This movie represented a return to what first brought old blue eyes to fame, singing.
Documentaries The Goldwyn Touch and From Stage To Screen