Guys and dolls! They’re just a bunch of screwy guys and dolls!
The Flower was surprised to discover that that song (sung to the tune of “Hooray for Hollywood”) wasn’t actually in Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1955 classic musical, but actually from a Mark Hamill guested episode of “The Simpsons”, which also gave us “Luke, Be A Jedi Tonight” (covered an almost shocking number of times on YouTube).
Multiple asterisks must be placed after calling this film Mankiewicz’s. The All About Eve director wrote it for the screen based on Swerling and Burrows’ stage musical (in turn based on a story by Damon Runyon), and a good portion of the movie is Michael Kidd’s choreography, to say nothing of how much the film owes to its set design, costumes, and so on. But the smart directors are the ones who know how and when to step back and let everyone else shine, and we were all pretty impressed by how great this movie was, how terrific the music was, and how entertaining the dancing was, to say nothing of the whole silly story.
Marlon Brando, who could not sing or dance—and it doesn’t matter, opined The Flower, and she’s right—plays Sky, a savvy gambler whose over-confidence trips him into a bet/trap laid by Nathan (Frank Sinatra), whereby he must take a certain doll to dinner the next evening. In Havana. (Remember, Cuba used to be a hot spot before Castro wrecked it.) This doll turns out to be a Salvation Army (not exactly, but you know that’s what they were aiming at) do-gooder by the name of Sarah Brown (the impeccable Jean Simmons, who worked into the new millennium and voiced Grandma Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle) whose sole interest is souls. As in, she’s not saving any, and it’s quite distressing.
The music is terrific, even if you only know one song from the show: Luck Be A Lady Tonight. In one of the movie’s many amusing ironies, Frank and Marlon didn’t get along, and this is Marlon’s song (which he barely sings because, as noted, he can’t sing and he knew he couldn’t sing). Of course it became one of Frank’s signatures later. The music is really good in spite/because of its dedication to the movie itself. This means, also, that it’s not stuff that you hear much. There just aren’t many appropriate openings for singing “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game)” for example. There are the delightful “I’ll Know”and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”, though the former is pretty tied into Sarah’s character and the latter is tied into Nathan’s, even if ironically.
This two-and-a-half hour movie (musicals are always longer) is hugely stylized but it all works. (The Boy had some reservations of the final craps game, because they didn’t use dice, but not much. It’s a terrific scene.) And it flies by. Little characters from the big dance numbers recur, and they all have their own mini-story-arcs which never enter into the text of the play, but you never have a chance to be bored. (20-year-old Jerry Orbach has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role in the opening number, by the way.)
The Flower adored it, and pronounced us “on a streak”, following as it did 12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution. It, in turn, would be followed by Casablanca and West Side Story.