Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Guys and Dolls


Frank Sinatra really hated making this movie. The main character, Sky Masterson, is played by the non-singing Marlon Brando, the world’s biggest star at the time. Sinatra felt he should have had that part, but had to settle for the second banana, Nathan Detroit. And he was right, it was silly casting, Frank would have been better as Sky. But, being Sinatra, he was a total dick about it. Called Brando “that mumbler.” Again, true, but ditch the sour grapes, Sinatra. Not that Brando was all sweetness and light. It might have been better for all concerned if the producer could have gotten his dream cast of Gene Kelly and Bob Hope. Brando and Sinatra were soon not even speaking to each other.

There’s a funny story at the IMDb that I hope is true. Brando knew that Sinatra didn’t like cheesecake. There is a scene where Sinatra has to eat a bite of it. So Brando kept blowing his lines so there had to be take after take after take. Eventually Sinatra could not down one more bite, and filming had to be postponed to the next day … when it came off in one take.

Another tidbit: The musical was going to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama, but the book writer, Abe Burrows, was in trouble with the treasonous fuckers of HUAC. So the cowardly Pulitzer committee elected not to make an award that year. I hope they regret that now. But it’s hard to fault them too much. Just about everybody was behaving in a cowardly fashion in those scary days, except for the ten who actually went to jail rather than rat out their friends.

It was decided not to bring the stage show out into the real world, as they did with On the Town, and I think it was a wise decision. Instead, they filmed on enormous sound stages with stylized Times Square sets that are stars in their own right. Cars and buses roll by, gleaming brightly in the harsh Technicolor lights. A funny thing: All the cars look like they just rolled out of the showroom or car wash. Not a speck of dirt, not a dinged fender anywhere. It’s slightly surreal. Far from the real Times Square that I know and love.

All in all, it’s a very faithful and pretty good adaptation of the musical. Brando does not totally disgrace himself, though it seems they had to cherry-pick a bar here and a bar there to make up a complete song where he stayed on tune for the whole thing. The Damon Runyon dialogue, sans contractions, takes a little getting used to, but I was glad they preserved it.

But dated? Oh, my! Can you imagine any cop these days giving a rat’s ass about shutting down a floating crap game? Most Americans these days live within a few hour’s drive of a totally legal crap game. All Americans live within a five-hour plane ride from all the gambling they can stomach. It’s a much different world from 1951.