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Guys and Dolls(1955)
Nathan Detroit runs the best crap game in town, but with the police creeping in on him, he needs to find a new safe location to do business. He finds one but needs a grand to get it going, so he coaxes a bet with Masterson, a high-stakes gambler, to take a prim missionary to Havana, land of fun and sin.
For more about Guys and Dolls and the Guys and Dolls Blu-ray release, see Guys and Dolls Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye, Robert Keith
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
» See full cast & crew
Guys and Dolls Blu-ray Review
Who cares if Garbo talks? Brando sings!
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 2, 2012
The Broadway musical has been defined by a number of iconic duos who together offered scores filled with brilliant material, many of which helped define The Great American Songbook from the twenties through the sixties (and maybe just a tad into the seventies). Kern and Hammerstein, the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Adler and Ross, Bock and Harnick and Kander and Ebb are just a few of the many legendary pairs who have offered audiences huge hits (and the occasional flop), creating some of the most beloved works in the history of American theater. "One stop shopping" creators who forged both the music and lyrics for their shows are a relatively rare breed, and if asked, most people could probably only come up with a couple writers who filled this double bill: Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim (though Sondheim of course famously paired at various times with Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne and Richard Rodgers). But there are at least a few others, including The Music Man's Meredith Willson and a man who helped inspire Willson to write that musical, Frank Loesser. Loesser, like Willson, had achieved quite a bit of success in Hollywood before he attempted to write for Broadway (ironically the exact opposite trajectory that most of the iconic writers of the thirties and early forties took). Loesser's first musical, Where's Charley?, a musicalization of the venerable farce Charley's Aunt, was a major hit and a career high for Ray Bolger, as well as producing the standard "Once in Love With Amy". Two years later Loesser created what is one of the greatest musicals ever written, Guys and Dolls, which became a major smash (helping to give a major shot in the arm to the career of Robert Alda—Alan's father—in the process). Guys and Dolls might not seem like the sort of thing that would take Broadway by storm. It was based on the highly stylized writing of Damon Runyon, writing that includes dialogue that is artificial, to say the least (note how many of the characters use no contractions). Runyon's characters were also not exactly paradigms of honor (at least for the most part), meaning that several of the key players in Guys and Dolls' story had questionable backgrounds and motives.
Before we actually get to an actual discussion about Guys and Dolls I'd like to beg your collective forbearance in order to spend just a minute discussing one of the major malapropisms that many people use without even thinking about it, a malapropism that is in fact tied at least somewhat to the popularity of Broadway musicals. There are two elements to a song, the music and the lyric—yes, lyric, as in singular. Why is it that so many people use the incorrect form "lyrics" in describing the words to just one song? If you look back at old sheet music, quite often it would simply state "Words and Music by" without even using the term "lyric" in either the singular or plural form. But when musicals started becoming popular, the mastheads and, later, song folios and ultimately cast recordings stated "Music and Lyrics by" because musicals had more than one song, hence more than one lyric. Somehow that verbiage, perhaps due to being impressed upon the mass market through musical films where it was also employed, came to be used for even individual songs. (This is somewhat of a generalization, as "lyrics" was used incorrectly even in the veritable days of yore.) Okay, end of rant and we'll segue by stating the Frank Loesser wrote both the music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls, as he had done with Where's Charley? and would go on to do with The Most Happy Fella and his Pulitzer Prize winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. (It's worth noting that Guys and Dolls itself was slated to win the Pulitzer Prize, but wariness over book writer Abe Burrows' problems with the House Un-American Activities Committee put the kibosh on the award actually being given to the musical.)
There are two main couples in Guys and Dolls. The first consists of Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), famous for running a floating crap game, and his longtime fiancée Adelaide (Vivian Blaine, recreating her iconic role from the Broadway production), a showgirl with a perpetual post nasal drip resulting from never being able to get Nathan to the altar. The second couple includes Nathan's gambling buddy (and kind of nemesis) Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), from whom Nathan is attempting none too successfully to extract $1000 to help him fund a new site for the crap game. After a couple of failed attempts to trick Sky into betting the money, Nathan finally hits on a winning gambit by betting Sky he won't be able to take local Salvation Army worker Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Sky in turn makes a deal of sorts with Sarah that he can fill her empty Salvation Army "saving station" (with his coterie of small time hoods and gamblers) if she goes out to dinner with him.
The bulk of the musical then plays out with regard to two or three salient questions: will Nathan finally marry Adelaide and will Sky manage to win the bet without seriously offending Sarah in the process (especially if she finds out —and guess whether or not she does—that she's part of a wager)? The allure of Guys and Dolls really isn't that much in terms of the plot, which is fairly by the numbers, but much more in terms of the incredibly colorful characters.
Many people are on record stating they feel Brando was badly miscast in this film, or at the very least should have traded roles with Sinatra, but he actually does quite well and sings acceptably well, including one of the show's big hits "Luck Be a Lady Tonight". Sinatra is also quite winning, as is Simmons, but the film is owned lock, stock and barrel by two actors recreating their original Broadway performances. The effervescent Stubby Kaye is a wonderfully funny Nicely-Nicely Johnson, an inveterate follower of the horse races who is one of Nathan's main aides. Kaye gets two of the musical's showstoppers, "Fugue for Tinhorns" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat". But perhaps even better than Kaye is the absolutely perfect Vivian Blaine, an actress who is chiefly remembered, and rightly so, for this incredible role. Blaine never really took off as a motion picture actress, despite some notable appearances, and Guys and Dolls is important if for no other reason than that it memorialized one of the greatest musical comedy portrayals of all time. (I got to see Blaine in a touring company production of the Kander-Ebb musical Zorba when I was a little boy, and I can state she had lost none of her glamour and belting vocal abilities later in life.)
Guys and Dolls is also proof positive that the legendary Joseph L. Mankiewicz never met a genre he couldn't conquer, apparently quite easily. This is one of the smoothest stage to screen adaptations despite the sad jettisoning of several of Loesser's great songs (including rather oddly one of the show's biggest hits, "A Bushel and a Peck"). Mankiewicz obviously worked closely with choreographer Michael Kidd to deliver some really beautifully staged dance sequences (including the fantastic opening "Runyonland" number), but more importantly he was able to carefully toe the line between the source material's inherent whimsy and a more intimate, putatively more realistic, style that the medium of film often requires. Guys and Dolls is a big, splashy and frankly at times unabashedly silly musical, but it's one of the undeniable highlights of fifties' musicals.
Guys and Dolls Blu-ray, Video Quality
Guys and Dolls is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.55:1. This CinemaScope feature has been considerably improved from the previously released DVD in terms of sharpness and clarity, though this of course does not approach the pristine clarity of some of the larger format musicals which have been released on Blu-ray. Perhaps most impressive here is the utter lack of any typical artifacting like aliasing, even with a glut of close cropped patterns like Nathan Detroit's natty pinstriped suit. Colors are nicely saturated, but things seem to have tilted a bit toward the brown side of things, usually a sign of faded or aging elements. This mostly affects flesh tones. The transfer does suffer somewhat from a lack of shadow detail, especially noticeable in scenes where the men are wearing dark suits against black backgrounds or the club sequence featuring Brando and Simmons, where Brando seems to basically blend into the booth. Still, those who owned the DVD (or, heaven forfend, the VHS) of this title should be very well pleased with the overall look of Guys and Dolls on Blu-ray, especially since there doesn't appear to have been much if any digital tweaking of the image.
Guys and Dolls Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Guys and Dolls' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix presents Frank Loesser's brassy score in all its glory, with the fabulous orchestrations by (among others) Alexander Courage and Nelson Riddle sounding nicely clear and mostly full bodied. There's a certain narrowness in the midrange which is occasionally problematic, and there are also some very minor synch problems from time to time. Fidelity is very good, with dialogue sounding crisp and clear. Surround activity is mostly limited to the musical elements, though occasionally (as in the Havana club scene or some of the supposed New York material) we get some environmental effects dotting the side and rear channels.
Guys and Dolls Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Guys and Dolls Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Guys and Dolls remains one of the most colorful and enjoyable musicals of its era, and some (myself included) would argue that it has aged considerably better than the "other" iconic musical that premiered that year (and which bested Guys and Dolls in the Best Adapted Score Academy Award), Oklahoma!. Mankiewicz keeps things moving along briskly (the film really doesn't seem like it's two and a half hours), and it's simply a joy to see Blaine and Kaye recreating their iconic Broadway performances. This Blu-ray ports over the special features from the previously released deluxe edition DVD and sports generally excellent video and audio. Highly recommended.
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Guys and Dolls Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Guys and Dolls and Hans Christian Andersen Blu-rays - July 24, 2012
In the winter, Warner Home Entertainment will bring two musical favorites to Blu-ray: Guys and Dolls and Hans Christian Andersen. Guys and Dolls streets on November 6th, while Hans Christian Andersen is expected to street on December 18th.
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