Friday, April 22, 2011

Guys and Dolls (Mankiewicz. 1955)

"Luck, if you've ever been a lady to begin with - Luck be a lady tonight!"


Sinatra and Brando are two of the biggest stars to ever walk the face of the planet. Men and women alike find themselves weak in the knees over either of these two leading men. Sinatra's normal look is suave, charismatic and charming. Brando is usually tough, blue-collar and gritty. Any film that can mix these dynamics must be considered "must-see" material. It is too bad that film was never made. Instead, we are forced to settle with the 1955 smash hit, Guys and Dolls. The 1077 Films to See Before You Die has a very deep appreciation for musicals. And though this film is a solid effort, it is also the weakest I have seen so far.

Based on one of the most famous and well-loved stage musicals in history, Guys and Dolls is a star-studded homage to the older stage production. Though the story is only slightly changed, new songs are added to accommodate the will of Frank Sinatra. From the outside, we think that the film follows good ol' reliable Nathan Detroit (Sinatra). But we very soon understand that this film is about Sky Masterson, or more so - Marlon Brando.

How can a film with Sinatra and Brando be weak? Well, the starting point has to be the lackluster chemistry between the film's two biggest stars. Frank is very used to being the star of the show, but in Guys and Dolls the star is Marlon Brando. He plays the suave and sophisticated Sky Masterson. And though it hurts to admit, he does not do a very good job. He constantly seems out of his comfort zone in this role. His singing is below par, and his believability is below the floor. Brando may be famous for also having a successful stage career, but he does not fit into this picture at all. It is my least favorite of Brando's performances.

On the other side, we are given a classic Frank Sinatra performance. Sinatra and Nathan Detroit are pretty similar characters, and if they aren't, Frank convinces you that they are. He carries Brando in almost every scene that they have together. Though Brando would easily be considered a better actor, Frank is much more comfortable in this atmosphere - and you can see this while watching.

Of course the music in Guys and Dolls is very famous and memorable, but Brando is even able to mess that up. He practically mumbles through the production's most famous song, Luck be a Lady, all the while looking very stiff and awkward. It is almost unfortunate that we are forced to watch this scene even happen, but then we remember that we are watching THE Marlon Brando.

I understand that I have focused the majority of this post bashing Marlon Brando. I think the reason for that is he took me out of the picture. I did not believe him for a single second. And though Guy and Dolls works on several levels, he almost singlehandedly ruins all of them with his cardboard stiff performance. I think that this was a great film on paper, but the cast- other than Frank and Vivian Blaine- was simply not interested in making a quality picture.

At the end of the day, who am I to trash the greatest actor of all time? I just pray as a film fan that this is NOT a person's first exposure to the legend of Marlon Brando. His performance is bad enough to ruin almost all of this film's redeeming qualities. I love Guys and Dolls, yet I was reduced to "working through" this rendition.

Guys and Dolls: C

My Next Film....Let the Right One In (Alfredson. 2008)

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