26
Jul
11

“Guys and Dolls” (1955)

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Co-stars: Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine

AFI Rankings: 100 Years… 100 Songs #42

100 Years of Musicals #23

Character: Sky Masterson

File this one under “fun”. Although it won no major awards for Mr. Brando, it, along with his role in Julius Caesar, proved he was capable working in any genre. I say capable instead of amazing because although he acted the hell out of this role, he wasn’t exactly Gene Kelly. He charms his way through it and into our hearts, but wasn’t a brilliant singer, by his own admission (or as he described it “like the wail of a bagpipe through wet tissues”). In fact, while his singing is quite respectable in the movie, Brando himself said that it was the masterwork of the studio, who pieced his songs together line by line, as he couldn’t stay on key. So that’s how they did it before auto-tune!

The movie starts with Nathan Detroit, a gambler who organizes  illegal crap games, broke and struggling to find a place to hold his games. The police are on his back, and his usual haunts are all saying no to hosting his game. The only place that will host the game requires a $1000 fee up front, and won’t even take his marker (an I.O.U). Detroit hears that Sky Masterson, a high rolling gambler who’ll make large bets on almost anything, is in town. He makes Sky a bet that he won’t be able to take just any woman with him to Havana, Cuba the next day. Sky accepts the bet, but then Detroit points out Sister Sarah Brown, a missionary for the “Save a Soul Mission” (or Salvation Army).

Sky goes to the mission, proclaiming he needs his soul to be saved. Sarah wants nothing to do with him, even though her congregation is completely empty. After all, Broadway is crawling with sinners but sinning is a lot more fun than repenting. Sky goes about attempting to charm her, but she wants none of his advances. Eventually, he makes her a deal: if she goes to dinner with him the next night, he’ll bring her 12 genuine sinners for her mission’s big meeting the night after. He even writes his marker on the back of one of her bible quote cards.

Sky persists that Sarah goes with him for dinner (which he has revealed is in Havana, Cuba). She still wants none of him. However, he meets the leader of the mission, who tries closing down Sarah’s branch. He offers his marker to Sarah again, who begrudgingly accepts in order to save her mission. They fly to Cuba, where Sarah is predictably no fun, reading about churches from a guide book. Sky wants her to have a good time, so unwittingly, he gets her drunk on rum. She kisses him, and the drunken sparks fly! At dinner in the restaurant, a sexy Cuban woman is eyeing up Sky, making Sarah jealous. The woman eventually steals him for a dance, and Sarah begins to dance with a Cuban man in retaliation. What ensues is hilarious: earnest dancing from the non- dancing leads, and a brawl started by a drunken missionary.

There is a number performed around a fountain, where the drunk Sarah confesses to falling in love while Sky keeps her from falling over. Sky confesses he asked her out on a bet, but surprisingly, she accepts this fact and doesn’t hold it against him. They head back to New York by dawn, and as the day breaks and the police car’s siren, a bunch of gamblers rush out of the mission, where they had been playing craps. Sarah blames Sky, who has nothing to do with it. Hurt, he proclaims that he will still meet his marker, and bring her 12 genuine sinners. He goes to another crap game that evening, this time held in a sewer. When his requests for help are met with a resounding “no”, Sky chooses to bet them: one roll, their souls for a $1000 each. Annnnd- cue showstopper:

Egos clashed on the set of Guys and Dolls. Sinatra was still mad about losing the role of Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront to Brando (and that Brando was “seeing” his old flame, Ava Gardner). He was especially incensed about not playing Sky Masterson, as he had wanted to sing “Luck Be A Lady” in the film. Blows were never traded (which was probably a good thing for the wiry Frank, honestly)- the closest they came was during the filming of the scene at the beginning, when Frank is eating cheesecake. Knowing Frank had a show that night and didn’t want to eat too much, Brando purposely flubbed his lines, because with each retake a new slice would have to be brought to him. He stated his reasoning to the director: “I’m gonna make this son of a bitch eat till he starts shitting in the booth.”

Joseph L. Mankiewicz was the director of the film, and he had taken a gamble on casting Brando before- he was the man behind casting him as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar. He was on to something- Brando was well cast as Sky Masterson, playing him with sleazy grandeur, and eliciting several genuine laughs. This would be his only musical, but not his only comedy. The film is a ton of a fun, and worked well in showing off Brando’s ability and range. Musical fans, take note. Thumbs up.

Quotes: “For two weeks I gambled in green pastures. The dice were my cousins and the dolls were agreeable with nice teeth and no last names. ”

“I am not putting the knock on dolls. It’s just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy… like cough drops.”

“Daddy, I got cider in my ear.”

Sarah “That Bacardi flavor, it certainly makes a difference, doesn’t it?”
Sky “Oh, yeah. Nine times out of ten.”
Sarah “You know, this would be a wonderful way to get children to drink milk!”

“It is my understanding that the Constitution of the United States allows everybody the free choice between cheesecake and strudel.”

Guys and Dolls transcript

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"He's an angel as a man and a monster as an actor."
- Bernardo Bertolucci

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