Guys and Dolls pits men against women and vice against virtue in a light-hearted movie musical adapted from the popular Broadway play. Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra headline as two New York gamblers who make a bet that Brando can’t woo a female missionary (Jean Simmons) to a dinner date in Havana. The date unexpectedly results in true love, but the budding romance is immediately put to the test when the missionary learns the bet involved money to finance a large underground craps game.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) may seem like an unusual director for a musical, and Marlon Brando might seem like an odd choice to star in one. But for me, they are two of the more successful elements of the movie. Mankiewicz and Brando, along with Jean Simmons, bring depth and verisimilitude to the movie, which seems at odds with nearly everything else about Guys and Dolls. Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics leave me cold. The sets feel too theatrical — cheap and confining. Michael Kidd’s choreography, which I enjoyed so much in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, just feels spastic and desperate. And the characters played by Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, and all the rest of the supporting cast are shallow cartoons in comparison to Brando and Simmons.
I was bored to tears for the first hour of the movie, but things became vastly more interesting when Brando and Simmons arrived in Havana for a drunken dinner and a bar fight. It’s the warmest, funniest, and most human part of the movie. Once they get back to New York, I started losing interest again. My suspicion is that Guys and Dolls is not something I was ever intended to appreciate. The aesthetic artifice holds me at arm’s length, and the portrayal of male and female stereotypes just isn’t something I can get into. I mean, at one point, a bunch of women even dance in sexy cat costumes, begging ‘papa’ to pet them. Pet yourself, girls. And while you’re at it, get off the stage and send Brando and Simmons back.
Oscar Nominations: Best Color Cinematography, Scoring, Color Art Direction, Color Costume Design