Guys and Dolls (1955)
Monday, January 13th
Everyone in New York depends on Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) to maintain the local craps game, aka the “oldest established permanent floating craps game in New York.” However, this time the heat is on from Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith) and he is short the thousand dollars he needs to secure the location. Detroit decides that the only way to get the money he needs is to bet Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that he can’t take a certain “doll” to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Detroit bet looks like sure thing when he picks Sister Sarah (Jean Simmons) from the Save a Soul Mission as the lucky girl. Along with all his other issues, Detroit has further drama in his personal life from his fiancée of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide (Vivian Blaine). Adelaide wants as much to marry Detroit as she wants for him to give up running the craps game.
After seeing the stage version in New York, Samuel Goldwyn fell in love with the story and characters. Determined to bring the story to Hollywood, he paid $1,000,000 which at the time was the highest paid amount for film rights. Goldwyn could probably relate to the high stakes gamblers having gambled himself by coming to Hollywood and building up a highly successful independent production company. As with other Goldwyn productions, he used his own magic touch and gamblers spirit to bring together the best talent to bring this New York fable to life. Goldwyn would hire director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, to direct and write the film adaptation. Until this point the four-time Oscar-winning director and writer had not directed a movie musical. However, Mankiewicz would combine the feel of the stage production with atmosphere of 1940’s New York.
Goldwyn continued creating his successful formula of bringing the best-of-the-best together, with the casting of Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons in the lead roles. Brando was the top movie actor at the time, and the previous year had won the Academy Award for On the Waterfront (1954). Brando would prove to be a controversial choice with critics; however his performance was still popular with audiences. Brando does seem out-of-place amongst the professional singers and dancers, even Jean Simmons was able to find her voice and hold her own in the film. However, Brando brings something different to the film from the performance that a polished actor like Gene Kelly or Frank Sinatra would have brought to the role. Though not one of his strongest performances, it is enjoyable to see Brando out of his comfort zone dancing and singing. Both Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra had been originally considered for the role of Sky Masterson; Frank Sinatra would have to settle for the role of Nathan Detroit. In the original stage version the role of Detroit and his fiancée Adelaide are very much secondary characters. Yet Mankiewicz added so much more to their characters as well as the many minor characters that add to the atmosphere of the film. Goldwyn would capitalize on Sinatra’s abilities and plenty of opportunities to show off his singing and performing talents.
Images from: Guys and Dolls Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Samuel Goldwyn Productions, 1955. DVD.