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Guys and DollsGuys and Dolls, Deluxe Edition, on DVD

It's no Rogers and Hammerstein masterpiece, but Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film version of Frank Loesser's musical (based on Damon Runyon's work) is well worth seeing if only because of Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.

And there's more to recommend it, too, despite our lukewarm reaction to the production as a musical.

Set in New York, in the world of big and small time gamblers,  Guys and Dolls stars the always great Brando as the high-rolling Sky Masterson, with Jean Simmons outstanding as "Salvation Army-compatible" missionary Sarah Brown – a straitlaced lady who becomes Brando's love interest, much to the surprise of them both.

It seems like pretty strange casting, especially since Brando and Simmons both have tgo sing here (and they do it surprisingly well, though we wish the showpiece "Luck Be A Lady" could have been given to Sinatra instead). Sinatra, in a co-starring role, plays Nathan Detroit (who's famous for running "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York"). He's mostly wasted here, with his songs being more ensemble and/or novelty-type tunes when he should have had Brando'smore substantive songs.  Blaine reprises her Broadway role as Detroit's love interest, a showgirl to whom he's been engaged for 14 years and who wants him to give up his gambling ways and become a serious citizen.

The dialogue seems stilted, mostly by a lack of contractions (would these supposed "blue collar" types really say phrases like "you will" rather than "you'll"?), which is kind of strange, though apparently it's right out of Runyon's writing so that may explain it if not justify it.

The plot concerns Detroit's attempt to set up a lucrative crap game despite the pressure from the NYPD, as well as a side bet he makes with Masterson that involves the seduction of Brown. All comes together in the end, of course, but there are plenty of ups and downs – and singing and dancing – along the way.

Special mention should be made of Stubby Kaye, who young people may only remember as Marvin Acme from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." He just about steals the show in his scenes as Nicely Nicely, one of Detroit's people of hench, and with his great solo "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat."

Even though the film isn't any longer than many musicals, it seems long – perhaps because it just doesn't have the "spark" of some other musicals such as My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, West Side Story and The Sound of Music.  

If you only know Marlon Brando from movies like "On the Waterfront," "The Godfather"  or "Apocalypse Now," you're in for a surprise here.  It's too bad that Sinatra is basically wasted, though we suppose Brando may have been more believable as a romantic lead back then than the skinny songster.

MGM  Home Entertainment has done a nice job with the DVD. It features a very good anamorphic widescreen transfer (16x9 TV compatible), with a sharp, bright and colorful picture. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, though there isn't a lot of surround, and the overall quality is fine for a film this old.

And the extras are great. The best is a 72 page collectible scrapbook that brings together  stuff like old advertising and photos. You also get two good documentaries ("Guys and Dolls: From Stage to Screen" and "Guys and Dolls: The Goldwyn Touch").

We're confirmed fans of musicals, yet had never seen Guys and Dolls before and were quite surprised by it. While, as mentioned, this is not up to the standards of some of the great Hollywood versions of Broadway musicals (neither is Paint Your Wagon, yet it's still enjoyable), it's well worth a look and this edition is very "lookable" indeed

Guys and Dolls, Deluxe Edition, from MGM Home Entertainment
149 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.55:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Written for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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