Music Music Music! Marathon: Guys And Dolls (1955)

The second film in the marathon has two screen icons and serious absence of heart!

Written By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The idea of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra sharing the screen in a musical is oddly appealing. Mr. Sinatra is a no brainer, with his voice he’s a natural fit for the musical. Mr. Brando is the odd one, the idea of a method actor like Mr. Brando taking part in a musical is appealing in the oddest of ways. Can Mr. Brando shed his tough guy image and pull off the lyrical aspects of a musical? Can Mr. Brando sing at all? Will Mr. Brando take over this film like so many others or will his lack of musical affinity allow him to yield the floor to Mr. Sinatra?

The answer to all those questions lay somewhere in the middle, but my pontification left the most pressing question unasked, where’s the heart? All the questions I had about Mr. Brando going into Guys And Dolls were quickly tossed to the side in my search for this films heart. Through all the song and dance numbers, the trip to Cuba and the jokes about the Mission the film failed to show an ounce of heart. Guys And Dolls came across like the a wonderfully constructed musical where the writer forgot to insert the parts that make us care about the characters and the world they live in. When Mr. Brando, as Sky, takes Jean Simmons, Sarah, to Cuba it should be the segment of the film where we finally learn that Sky is a man we can root for beyond his obviously being cool. That never happens, Sky remains cool as a cucumber and any chance of the film showcasing heart is but a faded memory.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz tries to imbue his film with heart on a few more occasions. But, when one of his key relationships is self-destructive, where Mr. Sinatra obviously cares nothing for his dame, and never truly will, there’s little chance of any heart being found there. The gangsters are a funny group, a colorful set of characters, but alas they are also bereft of heart. they are a collection of types as opposed to actual people who can fill the film with heart. Mr. Mankiewicz does attempt to give Guys And Dolls some heart but his attempts fail and the film is all the lesser for his failure.

That’s not to say that Guys And Dolls isn’t a handsome film or that it doesn’t feature a handful of catchy numbers. Those elements are obviously well done with the first glance at the screen accompanied by auditory participation in a musical number. Not every musical number is catchy, but even those that aren’t as catchy are still fetching to the ears. Mr. Mankiewicz takes full advantage of the wide screen format, in both his dance numbers and the films stiller moments. There is always something happening in one of Mr. Mankiewicz’s frames, and he uses color to great effect as well.

The lovely production design and the ear pleasing musical numbers can’t make up for a film that lacks a driving narrative or heart in its story. The well made nature of the film can make up for some odd ticks in the characters speech patterns that I found annoying. However, much like those odd speech patterns Guys And Dolls is a musical that is always a bit off because in a musical about relationships and love it’s missing the key ingredient of heart. Which leaves the questions about Mr. Brando, questions that honestly don’t matter much when the film fails to give his character the heart he so desperately needs.





2 responses to “Music Music Music! Marathon: Guys And Dolls (1955)

  1. I just watched Guys and Dolls, then read through a few reviews. You really hit the nail on the head with this. I’d add that, for the most part, the music was forgettable, and Vivian Blaine’s voice was annoying.

  2. A while removed from the movie, and yeah, I have trouble remembering the music.

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