music friday: jonvoyage
what i watched last week

by request: guys and dolls (joseph l. mankiewicz, 1955)

Today I welcome a new member of the By Request team, Diana, who offered several suggestions, of which this is the first to show up on the blog.

I just wish I could say more nice things about the movie itself. There may be some taste preference problems here ... “It’s just not for me” is a phrase I’m becoming more fond of as time passes. It’s not that I don’t like musicals ... when we did our Fave 50 thing a few years ago, I had four musicals in my Top 50 (five if you count “What’s Opera, Doc?”), while one of the others had no musicals and the third had only two, the highest at #39. It’s not that I don’t like 50s musicals, although we’re getting closer ... Singin’ in the Rain made my list, and Gigi came close. But I’m not a big fan of Broadway musicals from the 50s that made it to the big screen (both Singin’ in the Rain and Gigi had non-Broadway source material). My favorite movie that meets the criteria is probably My Fair Lady, to which I only gave 7/10. (I liked Oliver! even more, but it was a 60s musical.)

So ... not for me. It’s also really long (2 1/2 hours ... not for me). All of which means I want to tip my cap to Guys and Dolls, even if it wasn’t for me. (OK, I’ll stop now.)

Except ... and I’m not saying anything new here. The oddball casting of Marlon Brando as the male lead pretty much brings this below the norm. (In fairness, if I remember correctly, Diana’s recommendation came when we were talking about miscast non-singers in movie musicals.) Marlon Brando is my favorite actor of all time, and he is game, here. He can carry a tune, although he can’t project worth a damn. You think he’s good enough, except there’s Jean Simmons, a “non-singer” as well, doing just fine ... she’s a good singer, she’s not just getting by, and she’s a good example of how to cast a non-singer in a singing role (i.e., pick someone with some background in music, and I don’t mean being able to play the conga drums). The worst comes when Brando performs “Luck Be a Lady” (the only song in the score that I recognized, for what it’s worth). The best you can say is that he gets through it, and again, I’d like to say what the heck, good enough, but then you remember that Frank Fucking Sinatra is in this movie. And Marlon Brando is singing the top song.

Especially early in his career, Brando was open to trying many different things. We remember the iconic roles like Stanley Kowalski and Terry Malloy, but in the 50s alone, he also did Shakespeare (a fine Marc Antony in Julius Caesar), Zapata, Napoleon (not all of these were good movies, of course). I think it’s pretty cool that Brando wanted to be in Guys and Dolls. But he was better as Zapata, where he was at least marginally more believable as a Mexican than Charlton Heston was in Touch of Evil.

Would I like Guys and Dolls if Sinatra had gotten his wish and played Sky Masterson? I would have disliked it less, is more accurate.

I tried, honest. It took me three viewings to actually get through the movie ... the first two times, I fell asleep by the midpoint of the film. But I kept at it, and the third time was a charm. 5/10. If you feel like having a festival, the four musicals that made my Top 50 were A Hard Day’s Night (#42), Singin’ in the Rain (#39), Cabaret (#32), and Top Hat (#12). And I had two Brandos in my Top 10: Streetcar (#9) and Godfather (#1).