Brando sings! It is still as exciting to hear today as it was 57 years ago. When producer Samuel Goldwyn decided to turn Guys And Dolls (1955) into a musical film he wanted the best actors possible. Nobody was bigger than Marlon Brando, even when considering the possibility of having Gene Kelly or even Frank Sinatra in the leading role. Brando’s lack of singing experience wasn’t a concern because as long as he can carry a tune, he would more than make up for any musical downsides with his strong acting ability. It was a role of the dice (if you will forgive the pun) that managed to work out much better than anyone (except Goldwyn) could have expected.
Based on the Broadway musical by Frank Loesser, Guys And Dolls tells two love stories that intertwine with each other, set in New York during the 1940’s. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) runs a roaming crap game that every big roller wants to join. He has been engaged to nightclub singer, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), for 14 years, but is still unable to commit to a wedding date. On this particular day, Nathan can’t find a venue for his game and the high rollers are becoming impatient. The only option that he has found requires $1000 in advance, and Nathan is down on his luck at the moment.
In order to secure his $1000, Nathan makes a sure win bet with high roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando). Sky is heading to Havana this evening and Nathan can pick any girl in town for Sky to have to convince to go along on the trip. Sky agrees on the bet and Nathan picks the hard nosed, uncompromising, sister Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) from the “Save A Soul” mission.
What ensues is a wonderful pair of Hollywood style romances, where against all odds, our characters find a connection that they never imagined to be possible. Nathan realizing that without Adelaide he has nothing left, and Sky understanding that one “doll” is better than his different “doll” every day mentality.
Typical Hollywood musicals from the 1950’s only featured highly talented musical artists. Everybody could sing or dance, and most of them could do both, but when Samuel Goldwyn fell in love with this story he wanted it to be more than just another great musical; he wanted it to be a great film. Sinatra, who desperately wanted to play Sky Masterson, was moved to the part of Nathan Detroit because fresh off On The Waterfront (1954), Brando was the biggest star in the world. Sinatra himself had just won an Academy Award for his supporting performance in From Here To Eternity(1953). Brando and Sinatra had previously found themselves competing for the same roles in both On The Waterfront and The Man With The Golden Arm (1955). It seems somewhat unusual that they would continue to be attracted to the same roles, but considering how talented they both proved to be, perhaps they weren’t attracted to the same roles as much as the best roles were attracted to them.
Since his film debut in 1950, Brando had made seven movies. Three of these movies were nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards, and Marlon Brando had already earned himself four Best Actor nominations. He was exactly what every actor wanted to be, and the perfect fit for Goldwyn and this musical extravaganza.
Brando had worked with director Joseph L. Mankiewicz just a couple of years earlier on Julius Caesar (1953), and Mankiewicz was thrilled to undertake his first musical with Brando standing next to him. Both a little unsure of their own abilities, they worked marvelously in creating a film that could be remembered for more than just its songs and bright colors.
The next missing piece to Guys And Dolls was of course, the “dolls”. Vivian Blaine was an easy choice for Adelaide. She played the role for more than 1200 performances on Broadway and in London. There was nobody in the world that could have been Adelaide better than Blaine, and she made that even more obvious with her performance in this film.
Jean Simmons on the other hand might seem an unusual choice for Miss Sarah Brown. By the mid 1950’s, Simmons had already established herself as an extremely talented and dramatic young actress. By the age of 25, she had already starred in David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), “The Archers” Black Narcissus (1947), Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), Otto Preminger’s Angel Face (1952) and the Biblical epic film The Robe (1953). Of course it took Samuel Goldwyn to see the potential underneath her already impressive career. Simmons began her career as a young girl singing on the stage with her older sister. She then went on to study dance as a teenager, in order to one day become a dance instructor. Although her musical abilities may not be quite as good as other musical actress in the 1950’s, she obvious had a huge advantage in the drama department. She also had one other thing going for her; the year before Guys And Dolls, Jean Simmons had starred with Marlon Brando in the film, Desiree (1954). In this fictional romantic telling of Napoleon and Desiree, they showed great chemistry together, and Guys And Dolls proved to be a wonderful opportunity to move their natural spark to a more lighthearted and comedic setting. The result is a magical piece of filmmaking.
Together, it is the scenes with Brando and Simmons that are the most memorable in the film. Sinatra and Blaine are the obvious talented singers in the film, but because Brando and Simmons look so remarkable and carefree together, one can’t help but smile as they sing and dance their way to a happy ending. Especially in the fountain scene where they both appear to be having more fun than they have had at any previous point in their professional careers.
Guys And Dolls was a success from every angle. It was one of the highest grossing films of the year and earned decent reviews from almost everyone. People who felt that the film was miscast created most of the negativity, but today it is clear to see that Guys And Dolls is a treasure, because unlike every other musical from that era, the acting is just as important as the singing. Could Frank Sinatra have played the role of Sky Masterson? Of course, but then we may have never have heard one of the greatest dramatic actors ever confess his love to a co-star through song.Back to Home for More Reviews