VOD film review: Guys and Dolls
Ivan Radford | On 18, Jun 2021
Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Cast: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons
Where to watch Guys and Dolls online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Amazon Prime / Apple TV (Buy/Rent) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. Together at last. That, in itself, would be reason enough to watch Guys and Dolls, the 1955 adaptation of the iconic musical. That the original show is a stone-cold banger, though, only makes it even more of a must-see.
Getting the casting right is key for any musical movie to work, and Guys and Dolls plays a blinder of a hand. Brando may not have the most powerful pipes, but he smoulders with charisma in the lead role of Sky Masterson, a compulsive gambler who takes on an impossible bet: that he can take Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a sergeant in the Save a Soul Mission, away to Havana for dinner. The wager is proposed by Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), in order to raise the money to hold an unlicensed dice game. Sky, meanwhile, gets Sarah to go out with him by promising to bring 12 sinners along to a Mission meeting.
Brando plays it just right, swaggering with an intense yet laidback confidence, while Sinatra is impossibly cool as Nathan Detroit. Jean Simmons, meanwhile, walks away with the whole show as Sarah, the demure, strait-laced Christian who gains oodles of life experience over the course of the two-hour runtime. She balances humour at her naivety with genuine kindness and compassion, still helping to draw out Sky’s redeeming good nature, even as he swoons over him. (The pair had co-starred in romantic drama Desirée the year before, so their chemistry was tried and tested.)
It helps, of course, that they’re working with some of the best showtunes in the biz, from Guys and Dolls and If I Were a Bell to the timeless Lucky Be a Lady, which are bursting with wit and catchy melodies from Frank Loesser. Even the Save a Soul Mission song Follow the Fold is a pitch-perfect parody of the kind of religious hymn sung by The Salvation Army, the inspiration for Save a Soul.
Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book is adapted smartly by director Joseph L Mankiewicz, who trims numbers to keep the pace from slacking while giving Sinatra a meaty share of screentime. He also makes the wise decision to keep on choreographer Michael Kidd from the original Broadway production, who fills the screen with some delightful, lively dance numbers – and a fun barroom scuffle in the brief soiree to Cuba. Also reprising a role from Broadway is Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who brings the Mission meeting’s house down with the iconic Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat. As that belter draws a close, you’ll be struggling to do anything other than stand up and cheer.
Guys and Dolls is available on BBC iPlayer until 29th June 2021