For this month’s final review for Genre Grandeur – Movie Musicals, here’s a review of Guys and Dolls (1955) by Audrey of 1001 Movies and Beyond
Thanks again to Audrey of 1001 Movies and Beyond for choosing this month’s genre.
In case you missed any of this month’s reviews, here’s a recap:
- La La Land (2016) – Keith
- A Hard Days Night (1964) – Michael
- Bang Bang Baby (2014) – Darren
- Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Keith
- Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Vinnie
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – Catherine
- West Side Story (1961) – Rob
- Singin’ the Rain (1952) – Ghezal
- Singin’ the Rain (1952) – Al
- Team America: World Police (2004) – Robb
- 8 Femmes (2002) – Reut
- Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – Vern
- Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – Rob
- Guys and Dolls (1957) – Audrey
In addition, I watched and reviewed 5 movies for my companion series Genre Guesstimation. Unfortunately, only one of them will now be considered among my favorites of the genre.
- *A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
- South Pacific (1958)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
- Gypsy (1962)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Ghezal of Ghezal Plus Movies and she has chosen the genre of Film Noir Movies.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of July by sending them to NoirGhezal@movierob.net
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Ghezal!
Let’s see what Audrey thought of this movie:
Let’s be clear on one thing before we get started: Guys and Dolls is indisputably one of the all time great American musicals. So one would think that all this film really needs to do to exist to be great, right? Well, sort of. Guys and Dolls is a pretty good movie in its own right, but given the fact that it has incredible source material, a legendary musical director in Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Frank Sinatra, it should be a whole lot better.
First of all, the casting amounts to nothing less than a tragic shrine to what might have been. Because seriously, in what universe do you cast Frank Sinatra in a film where Luck Be a Lady will be sung and then not have him be the one who sings it? It makes zero sense and it’s emblematic of the sort of poor decisions that cripple the film. Because don’t get me wrong, Marlon Brando was one of the greatest actors of his generation, but to have him talk-sing his way through the role of Sky Masterson and particularly the Luck Be a Lady sequence while Frank Sinatra is one dressing room over is criminal. End of story.
OK, actually, that’s not the end of the story. I’ve got a lot more to say. Overall, the directing feels bland and perfunctory, as though Mankiewicz got bored halfway through production and was just going through the motions. The musical numbers lack any sort of visual flair, and the film lacks a certain panache that one might expect from the golden age of musical theater.
It’s not all bad though. After all, you do have Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in a movie together, which isn’t nothing. And perhaps more importantly, their leading ladies Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine are fairly adept at stealing every scene they’re in as the straight-laced Salvation Army missionary and ditzy nightclub singer, respectively. Their songs “If I Were a Bell” and “Adelaide’s Lament” are definite highlights of the film. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what is arguably the film’s premier number, “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” brought to life by the incomparable Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
There’s really a lot to like here. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the film has so many opportunities to be better than what it is, and instead of taking chances it plays it safe every time. That’s why this adaptation of Guys and Dolls hasn’t aged as well as many of the other movie musicals that came out around the same time. But I guess when it comes down to it, there are plenty of worse crimes against cinema than slightly dated movie musicals, and there is something about this one that still endears itself to audiences.
I can’t really disagree with your assessment on this. One of the problems is that they did nothing to open this one up. Nothing was shot on location – it was all shot on studio sets and sound stages – so it very much looks like a “stage” musical – which obviously it was – and quite a successful one (I saw one of the revivals with Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit) – but the difference between seeing a musical LIVE and seeing it flattened out on film is enormous. All the energy you get, the visceral jolt from being in an audience and seeing “Sit Down Your Rockin’ The Boat” and the title tune and the lovely and intimate “If I Were A Bell” etc. etc. etc. (if I can borrow a bit from Yul Brynner and “The King & I”) are simply not the same on film. As an example – the dance numbers in West Side Story – on the real streets of NYC – are far more alive. This is Damon Runyon after all – and a stylized version of gamblers and their dolls – but as you said – it works – but only to a point. They did leave money on the table here. I actually was impressed with Brando a bit more than you – and impressed that he pulled it off as well as he did. Lets face it – whether Sinatra was ever seriously considered for Skye – once Brando said “yes” – that was it. And I get your argument about who could have been better singing which songs – but bottom line – Brando is a far more convincing Skye Masterson in every regard (other than singing – and I disagree that he sang/talked – he carried some tunes) than Sinatra would’ve been. Back in his skinny days – he was better cast as Nathan. I can say this – having played the role in school. And two of my kids were in it as well (not with me of course…). It’s a bright and breezy take on a bright and breezy musical – and Sam Goldwyn did it proud for the time. Having said all that, “I come here to shoot crap. Let’s shoot crap”.