XL Popcorn – Guys and Dolls

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 876/1009Title: Guys and Dolls
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Year: 1955
Country: USA

I think I need to stop starting posts like this because, as I get closer and closer to the end of this list, the more frequent I will be saying goodbye to directors. With Guys and Dolls I am now saying goodbye to Joseph L. Mankiewicz, whose other films on the list are All About Eve, Sleuth and The Barefoot Contessa. The list used to also contain a fifth film, The Ghost & Mrs Muir, which was removed during one of the major reshuffles.

With Guys and Dolls I got an answer to a question I don’t think I would have ever asked: what would it be like to see Marlon Brando in a musical role? Well, I got my answer and the effect is mostly good – but probably would have made for a better movie if they had cast a professional song and dance man. At least it meant that, unlike White Christmas, one of the romantic pairings was age appropriate.

Enough about Brando, it is time to talk about the star who truly owned this film: Jean Simmons as Sergeant Sarah Brown of an inner city missionary organisation. As a musical the plot of Guys and Dolls isn’t exactly chock full of twists – the main interesting narrative being how Simmons’ missionary ends up falling for a gambler after he takes her to Havana in order to win a bet. This trip to Havana giving the best scene in the film, Jean Simmons as a drunk missionary instigating and kicking ass in a Cuban barroom brawl.

A lot of sources list Guys and Dolls as being the last great MGM musical, which is an interesting thought given how there was still a lot of life left in the Hollywood musical game – many of them ending up winning Best Picture. What’s interesting about this versus a lot of other musicals to follow is just how much this feels like a stage musical in places. The initial sequence of the many (tame) vices in New York and the sewer gambling dance are ripped straight from Broadway and work surprisingly well.

In the end, Guys and Dolls really is Simmons’ show and it starts to get a bit wobbly when she isn’t in it for too long. There are a lot of great tunes and gags to keep it chugging along for two and a half hours – but nothing ever quite tops seeing her deck a man in a bar just because she wanted to.

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