In New York, a gambler is challenged to take a cold female missionary to Havana, but they fall for each other, and the bet has a hidden motive to finance a crap game.In New York, a gambler is challenged to take a cold female missionary to Havana, but they fall for each other, and the bet has a hidden motive to finance a crap game.In New York, a gambler is challenged to take a cold female missionary to Havana, but they fall for each other, and the bet has a hidden motive to finance a crap game.
It's also somewhat of a time capsule for a genre in the midst of transition. Mankiewicz juxtaposing Michael Kidd's snappy, avant garde choreography with static sequences of the leads singing swooning songs to each other and the camera lands the film squarely betwixt classical and contemporary sensibilities. Amazingly, the duelling styles complement each other perfectly, infusing the seedy gambling sequences with a jazzy excitement, while painting the parallel romantic subplots with a gentle sweetness and elegance. Similarly, Mankiewicz shows a flair for infusing setting with personality, as the New York sequences bustle with a nervy energy, while colouring the dalliance to Havana with a sultry breeziness. At two-and-a-half hours, the film is indisputably overlong, but the gentle, teasing humour throughout, and little touches like the strangely eloquent gamblers and their strangely stilted, contraction-free dialogue make it a thoroughly pleasant romp, antiquated sexual politics and all.
That said, it's the dazzling, star-studded cast who really give the film its unforgettable lustre. As infamous sex symbol Sky Masterson, Marlon Brando is suave, sparkling-eyed charisma personified, practically gliding through his scenes with the lope of a panther. However, Brando is too consummate an actor to deliver a mere caricature, and he weaves his breeziness with a deceptively nuanced undercurrent of brusque pragmatism and soft regret, to better sell Masterson's somewhat forced character arc into decency. Despite his purported distaste at playing second banana Nathan Detroit, Frank Sinatra proves perfect casting, delivering the perfect blend of fast-talking weediness and bombastic romanticism to keep relentless bum Detroit a roguishly irresistible scoundrel. Jean Simmons is a scream throughout, bustling with such gusto and perfect screwball banter to selling her 'adorably corrupted buttoned up prude' schtick as fresh and natural, while Broadway carryover Vivian Blaine is exquisitely sharp and witty as she is shrill, lending her scenes with Sinatra a vivacious energy.
What might have seemed an ambitious gamble at the time now plays as a pair of loaded-ahem-"special" dice, as Mankiewicz's Guys and Dolls bubbles with a perfectly mischievous sense of fun and irresistible heart. It may be simpler, sweeter, and less memorable than other genre-defining classics such as Singin' in the Rain, but if you're seeking out a rollicking, robustly entertaining classical gem, you're in luck. And (you've been waiting for this), luck be a lady tonight.
- Mar 16, 2018