Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s cinematic adaptation of the hit Broadway play, Guys and Dolls retains the Runyonesque style, humor, and charm of its source material while adding just a touch of naturalism to the dual romance stories at its center. Mankiewicz’s sure hand, Michael Kidd’s inspired choreography, and the sturdy songcraft of Frank Loesser insure a good time for audiences despite the iffy proposition of a singing and dancing Marlon Brando. The film is presented on Blu-ray with an exceptionally sharp transfer with colors that can seem a bit off-kilter from time to time. Audio quality is outstanding with a lossless 5.1 re-purposing of the original mix inclusive of wide stereo directional dialog. Extras are ported from previous SD DVD releases including a pair of informative featurettes and some outtake interviews from the featurette participants. The disc itself is contained in Warner's deluxe "Blu-ray Book" packaging including additional textual and graphical behind the scenes information in its 42 colorful pages.
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Robert Keith, Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pully, and Johnny Silver
Studio: Warner Bros.
The Film ****
Guys and Dolls adapts the successful Broadway musical based on a Damon Runyon story to the big screen. The central story involves an improbable romance between high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Brando) and prim and proper Christian missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons). The catalyst setting this romance in motion is Nathan Detroit (Sinatra), the facilitator of the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York”, who is trying to find a location in Manhattan where an unusually dense convergence of high rollers can shoot craps without the unwanted attentions of New York Police Lieutenant Brannigan (Keith) or of Nathan’s long suffering fiancee Adelaide (Blaine).
Joseph L. Mankiewicz was not exactly known for musicals, but he acquitted himself well on his one and only cinematic foray into the genre. Mankiewicz’s strengths as a director and writer were great dialog and a sympathetic touch with actors. If he had a weakness, it was that he was not much of a visual stylist. In the case of Guys and Dolls, Mankewicz and Producer Samuel Goldwyn secured the services of Michael Kidd to adapt his theatrical show choreography for the CinemaScope screen. This wise decision provides for dramatically staged and visually exciting musical sequences that nicely complement the narrative scenes that hold them together. Mankiewicz’s screenplay retains much of the stylized Damon Runyon adapted dialog from the stage show, but tweaks things a bit to beef up the dramatic scenes involving the dual romances between Sky Masterson/Sarah Brown and Nathan Detroit/Adelaide.
Mankiewicz went out on a limb a bit by casting Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons in the lead roles of Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown. Both were known more for their dramatic chops than their dancing and singing, but Mankiewicz refused to use vocal doubles during the musical numbers. Simmons proves to be a decent singer and an even better dancer. Brando struggles a bit with both, but gets through with a “talk-sing” style that is somewhat akin to what frequent Mankiewicz collaborator Rex Harrison would be doing in the following year’s hit stage production of My Fair Lady. Brando’s vocals were reportedly the result of compositing multiple individual studio takes. His dancing during the Havana sequence may not be especially slick, but like most of his acting performances, he approaches it with a combination of fearlessness and playfulness that comes across on screen.
Musical chops are certainly not in short supply for Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine, who acquit themselves well as the second leads. Sinatra was reportedly disappointed not to be cast as Sky Masterson, but he did not let that detract from his performance as Nathan Detroit. The part is beefed up considerably from the stage musical, with a bit more nuance to his relationship with Blaine’s Adelaide, expanded involvement in some of the musical production numbers, and a newly commissioned song from Frank Loesser called Adelaide that gives him a chance to do that voodoo that he does so well. Blaine knew the Adelaide part inside and out from her association with the hit Broadway production, and strikes the right balance of comedic and sympathetic as Nathan’s long suffering fiancee.
Other holdovers from the Broadway cast include Stubby Kaye and Johnny Silver as Nathan’s amusingly Runyonesque sidekicks, and B.S. Pully as similarly amusing heavy “Big Jule”. Where Mankiewicz uses the Broadway actors, he generally allows them to play their characters in the somewhat broadly comic manner they did on stage. In the case of Brando, Simmons, and Sinatra, he alternates their dialog and performances between the stagey Runyonesque approach and a slightly more subdued tone when dealing with the romantic scenes. The end result fits appropriately in the backlot Manhattan reality of the film
The Video ****
This 1080p AVC-encoding is letterboxed to the film’s original Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. This presentation improves on previous home video renderings of the movie in a number of ways, inclusive of extremely fine detail that allows for an aliasing-free rendering of the various elaborate suit-coat patterns with little or no filtering. Grain is reasonable and generally uniform. The heavy cropping that plagued the most recent MGM DVD of this title is not present on this Blu-ray from Warner. Contrast features bright whites that are free of blooming. Occasionally, dark parts of the image, such as black and navy blue suits display a lack of shadow detail. I have never seen the film theatrically, so I have no point of reference to say if this is “right” or “wrong”, but the color timing looks a bit odd to my eyes. Bright reds, greens and blues are deeply saturated and “pop” off of the screen, but this results in occasionally off-kilter looking flesh tones and backgrounds.
The Audio ****½
The film's sound mix is provided courtesy of a DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 encoding. The mix features wide stereo dialog, so viewers are advised to keep their front left and right speakers close to the edge of the screen if possible. Surrounds are used sporadically but very noticeably when employed. The Nelson Riddle orchestrations are the biggest beneficiary of the lossless encoding, with a wide frequency response conveying a very “present” feeling to the score. Critical listeners will notice some noise reduction artifacts and will be able to clearly discern the difference in technical quality between the music and dialog/vocal recordings. No alternate language tracks are available.
The Extras ***
The extras are all carried over from previous DVD releases of the film. All extras are presented in 16:9 enhanced standard definition video unless otherwise indicated below:
Under the somewhat awkward heading of “Behind the Scenes: A Broadway Fable: From Stage to Screen, Guys and Dolls” are the following featurettes:
The Goldwyn Touch (23:54) is a fairly concise “making of” featurette featuring a mix of interview, film clips, and behind the scenes photos. Topics covered include the enduring popularity of the stage musical, the appeal of the show to Samuel Goldwyn, Goldwyn in his later years, the choice of Joseph L. Mankiewicz as Director, the film's opening sequence, the "Runyonesque" style, changes made for the cinematic adaptation, the casting of Marlon Brando, the casting of Frank Sinatra, Sinatra's and Brando's contrasting personalities and working styles, the casting of Jean Simmons, Mankiewicz's insistence that the actors do their own singing, and Brando's singing (inclusive of coaching from Frank Loesser and stitching together the songs from multiple takes). On camera comments are provided by Susan Loesser (Daughter of songwriter Frank Loesser), Choreographer Michael Kidd, Actress Jo Sullivan Loesser (Wife of Frank Loesser), John Loesser (Son of Frank Loesser), Sam Goldwyn Biographer A. Scott Berg, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., and Tom Mankiewicz (son of Joseph L. Mankiewicz).
From Stage to Screen (26:40) is more or less a “Part Two” that picks up where the previous featurette left off. Topics covered include the Adelaide's Lament musical number, Viviane Blaine's recreation of her signature Broadway role, the mesh of Sinatra and Blaine's styles, the colorful supporting characters and cast, Stubby Kaye as "Nicely Nicely" Johnson, the Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat musical number, The Goldwyn Girls, Frank Loesser's active involvement in the film, songs that were dropped from the stage musical, songs that were written specifically for the film, Mankiewicz's expansion of the Havana sequence for the film, Brando's and Jean Simmons' dancing, the production numbers that were adapted closely from Michael Kidd's stage choreography, Broadway dancers used in the film, Kidd's use of the camera, the style of dance in the film, the uniqueness of Goldwyn's style compared to other studios, and the changes to the film's ending compared to the stage show. On-camera comments are provided by Susan Loesser , John Loesser, Kidd, Berg, Tom Mankiewicz, and Goldwyn, Jr..
Short Feature: More Guys and Dolls Stories collects outtakes from the interviews used for the above documentaries that provide additional behind the scenes anecdotes. They are individually selectable with no “Play All” option available. Descriptions follow:
- "Adelaide" (:50) Tom Mankiewicz explains the significance of the song to his family.
- Brando Dance Lesson (1:34) Michael Kidd discusses working on the film's choreography with Marlon Brando
- Goldwyn's Career (2:38) A. Scott Berg provides an overview of Samuel Goldwyn's career
- On the Set (1:12) Tom Mankiewicz reflects on his summer visits to the film's set when he was a teenager.
- Rehearsing "Adelaide" (1:29) Michael Kidd relates an anecdote illustrating Frank Sinatra's aversion to rehearsal and multiple takes
Musical Performances is a feature providing direct access to some, but inexplicably not all, musical production numbers. They are presented (also inexplicably) in standard definition video and look like the old DVD presentation of the film. They are individually selectable with no “Play All” option available:
- Fugue for Tinhorns (1:42)
- I'll Know (5:01)
- Guys and Dolls (3:26)
- Adelaide (3:34)
- Luck be a Lady (3:14)
- Sue Me (3:15)
Theatrical Trailer (4:3 Video - 4:53) is an extended promo for the film inclusive of an introduction from television personality Ed Sullivan.
The Blu-ray disc is enclosed in a deluxe “Blu-ray Book” case with shiny foil enhanced cover art offering a variation of the “arm in arm” cast shot from the film’s theatrical poster superimposed over a muted view of a Manhattan street. The disc is housed on a hub on the inner back cover, and between the covers are 42 pages including an Introduction, bios for Brando, Simmons, Sinatra, Blaine, Mankiewicz, & Goldwyn, select filmographies of all of the above except for Goldwyn, a multi-part “production notes” essay entitled Bringing "Guys and Dolls" to the Screen, publicity photos, behind the scenes photos, reproductions of vintage press clippings, and reproductions of vintage promotional art.