Guys and Dolls
Imagine Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando together in a movie. That sounds awesome, does it not? How can that possibly go wrong? Impossible as it sounds it can.
I frankly admit I am not your target group for musicals, but occasionally they do work for me, some are even great. This is usually when the musical elements become a natural part of the movie, supporting it rather than the other way round. In “Guys and Dolls” the musical elements feels like sabotage, something completely at odds with the movie, with the result that something that could have been good collapses.
Already I can hear alarm bells going off. This is a famous Broadway musical and one this still plays on many venues worldwide to this day, it has proven its worth and you, Mr. Sorensen, is just an idiot. No, I have not seen the Broadway version, in fact I never saw the musical before, it was never a part of my upbringing, so, yeah, I am an ignorant idiot. My point here is that this is likely a musical that ticks all the buttons for a musical fan, but if you are part of the ignorant outside world some of those same issues are the very problems of the movie.
“Guys and Dolls” the movie really consists of three elements. There is the surrounding story, which is actually pretty good. Without the musical elements there is a nice and interesting comedy here. Sinatra, Simmons, Brando, Vivian Blaine and the supporting cast are all very good, funny and well rounded. On its own I would have seen this movie.
The music is also okay. Though I knew none of the songs up front some of them are hanging on in my head and that is always a good sign. Having Frank Sinatra sing them can never be a bad thing either. Yeah, I could listen to the soundtrack no problem.
The dancing is a problem, definitely, but I never really like dancing in movies anyway. Here the dancing is particularly annoying, but that is not the real problem.
The problem is that these three elements completely work against each other. Except for a few songs the singing and particularly the dancing breaks the spell of the story and even in some of the cases where it could have worked like he Havana scene the stylistic element takes the scene out of its context. To me it feels like a comedy, a concert and a modern dancing show has been thrown together with little consideration if this would actually work. The result is that I lose all three of them.
If we zoom in on the comedy, as I chose to call the surrounding story, there are two tracks which are both funny and interesting. Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) is the operator of a floating crap game who is in trouble because the police is breathing down his neck while his customers are pushing for a venue and his girlfriend through 14 years, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), is desperately waiting for a wedding. The second track follows big-roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) wooing a salvation army girl (Jean Simmons), first as part of a bet with Nathan Detroit, later out of genuine love. Both are on a bumpy road with potential for both drama and comedy and we do get some of both, though mostly the later.
I always enjoy watching and listening to Frank Sinatra. In 1955 he is at his peak both on acting and singing and he nails that role on both accounts. Marlon Brando carried that very sexual aura around him and here he can give it full throttle. Again that is a joy to watch. Jean Simmons I remember mostly for her roles in English movies in the forties and I have this image of her from “Black Narcissus”. As the prudish Sarah Brown she is hardly recognizable, but loosing up in Havana we get the real woman behind her and she is a match for Brando.
Yeah, I would have liked that movie.
Do gangster-like crap players dance? Do salsa dancers in Havana dance with their head on their woman’s bosom? Do pedestrians on Broadway dance ballet down the street? In “Love my Tonight” the life of Parisians was beautifully incorporated into a song. In “Guys and Dolls” people suddenly do things that would make fish in pants look normal. In a dance show it is probably okay, in a concert it is okay, but it ruins the movie.
After the movie proper I went through an hour’s worth of self-congratulation in the extra material and the only thing it really did for me was convince me that there are a lot of people out there who likes this musical very much. I am very sorry guys if I am stepping on some toes. Apparently I belong to a small minority who fails to see the genius in bringing these three elements together.