Guys and Dolls [1955]

Joseph Mankiewicz's brightly stylized film of Frank Loesser's classic musical (based on the stories of Damon Runyon) casts the criminal underworld as a harmless fantasy in this whimsical vision of the Big Apple. Nonsingers Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons acquit themselves fine in the lead roles as high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson and Salvation Army missionary Sarah Brown. It's odd casting, to say the least. Frank Sinatra, who plays the good old reliable Nathan Detroit (who runs "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York") is left with novelty tunes while husky Brando delivers the love songs and hits, including "Luck Be a Lady." But in the context of the colorful dialogue and comically affected speech patterns (a giddy gangster-speak straight out of Runyon's breezy stories) the song performances aren't the least out of place. Stubby Kaye, reprising his role as Nicely Nicely from the Broadway run, practically steals the show in his few scenes and his show-stopping solo "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." The film is overlong at two and a half hours and somewhat stagily confined in the stylized, studio-bound sets--perhaps the mark of a director who had never helmed a musical before--but a terrific cast of eccentrics and Michael Kidd's high-energy choreography gives the film a memorable and enchanting character. --Sean Axmaker

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