Guys & Dolls is pretty much the most foolproof of the great musicals. For one thing, it was adapted from the eternally hilarious stories of Broadway’s lovably bawdy bandits (in particular the sweetly tall tale, The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown) by America’s wittiest, most original humorist, legendary newspaperman Damon Runyon.
For another, composer/lyricist Frank Loesser’s vigorous, colourful tunes are rich with distinctively Runyonesque flavour: “When you see a gent/paying all kinds of rent/on a flat that could flatten the Taj Mahal”.
Back in the 1950s when Sam Goldwyn saw the show in New York, it was inevitable his excitement would bring together the best star talent available for the film version. Writer/Director Joe Mankiewicz had never done a musical, but was atop the A-list and genuinely loved the New York fable.
Marlon Brando as a singer is charmingly weedy, but he has the only thing without which you cannot be Sky Masterson – sexy charisma.
Frank Sinatra seethed at not being cast as Sky, but grudgingly got on board when Mankiewicz bolstered crap game promoter Nathan Detroit’s story – and he is outstanding as the proprietor of “the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York.”
Sky takes a sucker bet that he can date Sarah Brown – a beautiful but prudish Salvation Army girl (Jean Simmons). Simmons had proven chemistry with Brando, having starred with him in romantic drama Desirée the previous year, and does the prim Salvation Army miss unbuttoning her passion to perfection.
More brainwaves were getting Vivian Blaine to reprise the role she originated on Broadway, Miss Adelaide, and retaining choreographer Michael Kidd, whose athletic ballets and Havana hanky-panky contribute to the great, vibrant fun this picture always is.
B S Pully
Harry the Horse
Joseph L. Mankiewicz