Guys and Dolls (1955)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's big screen monstrosity "Guys and Dolls" is one of the largest musicals of spectacle that you've ever seen. It relies on its big names, large numbers, and sexual innuendos to try to make the viewer forget that it is inherently full of errors.
To be fair, musicals aren't exactly the most natural feeling genre of film. Who actually breaks out in song in the middle of the street? It's films like "West Wide Story" that attempt to make singing and dancing macho and 'gansta'...but fail in doing so. While it's not a bad movie, it's hard to take street thugs in tight pants who snap their fingers when dancing seriously.
Then there's films like "An American in Paris" that is just about the spectacle...it has huge numbers that span long, long minutes. "Guys and Dolls" is part serious and part spectacle. It tells the story of the cool, the suave and the suckers.
The movie begins with a long intro that shows us the streets in New York. The people seem happy, they are well-dressed and smiling for the opening number.
The talk of the town is Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) and his floating crap game. Everyone wants in on the illegal activity, even though a certain Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) is breathing down all of their necks. They are not novices at being criminals so they aren't too hassled by the idea of Brannigan being on their tale.
But there's a problem: Detroit wants to have his crap game at a place that is demanding $1,000. He is completely broke. In an effort to get the big head of lettuce, he tries to con the money out of Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando). Sky is no fool either, but the betting gets out of hand. Detroit tells him that if he can take a doll of Detroit's choosing to Havana, then he'll give him a thousand bucks...if not, then Sky's out the money.
Mr. Masterson is always up for a little gambling, but he may be in over his head with this one. Detroit chooses Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) as the broad in question. Sarah is seeking to win lost souls to Jesus, so naturally she's the prude who can't have any fun. Also naturally, the film has her as the only character getting completely drunk, going against her morals, and lying to a whole roomful of people...but don't worry because the film sees her sin as "the right thing to do".
Sacrilegious and corny to a fault, "Guys and Dolls" just isn't enjoyable at all.
I think everyone knows that musicals aren't exactly the most manly movies available...but even "Guys and Dolls" realizes this. It has a moment when the men singing point to the camera and imply that if you're a guy and you're watching the movie, you're watching because your wife if making you...so good job, happy wife happy life.
This is the kind of movie that should make feminists angry because women are the only ones that pay for their mistakes and the sins of the men. The men get off scot-free. Why? Because their men...duh, now get back in the kitchen.
There are so many odd moments in the film that I think mean something more—but maybe I"m over-analyzing because I was bored out of my mind. For instance, there's a moment where, during a conversation, Frank Sinatra steps on a scale...he weighs approximately 130 pounds. But then he takes off his jacket and he drops ten pounds, he shakes his head and sighs—then steps off. Is this where we get beauty image from or is old Franky upset because he's so darn skinny? I don't understand.
Then, we have two musical numbers by a company of ladies. In one, they are dressed up like cats and they tell the men all they have to do is pet them and get them a warm bowl of milk. In the other number they are in gaudy dresses topped off with ridiculous jewels. They say that their men bought them all this booty, but then they wanted the other kind of booty...and they ain't gettin' none. During the course of the song they strip off all of the beautiful clothes and then hover over them in covetous fashion. Eventually all the women pile up the goodies and take off with them, turning to the audience and saying, "Well, wouldn't you?"
It's offensive enough as a musical number, but the costumes come back at the end. It implies that all women are materialistic pigs.
But underneath all the chauvinistic themes and the bad singing on the part of Marlon Brando, "Guys and Dolls" is just a boring musical. It's too long, too dumb, and too bland.
If you want to watch a fun movie that makes backhanded comments about gold-digging and chauvinism, watch "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"...it's twice as fun.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones