Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ten Statements About....GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)

He's Marlon Brando, and he'll charm anyone...even aging men
in band uniforms.
"Like I told you, I am not putting the knock on dolls. It's just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy, like cough drops".

1) I really liked the rather lengthy dance sequence that opens the film--not only because it's witty and fun, but because it manages to create the environment we're going to spend the next two and a half hours in, so that we accept the artificiality of the world we're inhabiting.

2) You know, at first I started laughing when I heard the way Nathan Detroit, Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet talked--no one, I suspect, ever talked in that overtly mannered way...but director Joseph L. Mankewicz has enough faith in his characters that he doesn't alter the dialogue, which results in it becoming effectively 'invisible' after a few scenes. The whole first half hour is about world building just as effective as any CGI spectacular of the last few years.

3) You know, Marlon Brando has gotten jeered at throughout the ages for his performance as Sky Masterson...and yet, there's this bizarre sort of charisma that comes off him throughout the movie that makes you believe in him as a denizen of this world even when common sense says he sticks out like Sarah Palin presiding over a gay marriage. And speaking of Brando....

4) If you ever wanted proof that Brando's mastery of his craft was real, it's here. If we're to believe the legend that he and Sinatra hated each other, the fact that he's able to sell us on the reality of the respect and friendship between these two men is something spectacular.

Using her gurning powers, Vivian Blaine tries to will Frank
Sinatra's hair into becoming something near normal.
5) Okay, let me get this straight...the message of Sarah Brown story is that once you pump liquor into a godfearing girl, she suddenly comes alive and becomes, you know, hot? Sorry, not buying it....

6) Going back to these dance numbers--there are three silent ones in this film, and it's a marvel how they actually tell complete stories within the overall story of the film. That sort of ability, I fear, is rapidly disappearing due to a lack of faith in people's ability to put information together quickly.

7) I have to wonder if someone like Stubby Kaye--who excelled as a comedian, an actor and a singer--would have been able to fully express his talents in the modern age. Watching this man so brilliantly assay Nicely Nicely Johnson, all I could think was how in 2011 he'd be forced into the kind of low-brow, CGI-driven comedies Kevin James stars in...and he'd be the second or third buddy in those movies and not the star.

8) As much as I liked Jean Simmons, the real female star of this film is Vivian Blaine. Maybe not conventionally attractive, there's something really compelling about watching her on screen, not flinching from her own advancing age and still projecting a charm and energy that is incredibly attractive.

"I need you to Hold, Hold Me Up...I's drunk."
9) The strangest thing about this movie is that it's one where there are no up and down bad or good guys...even Brannagan, who is set up early on to be the boogeyman of this film, shows a lot of affection for Nathan once it's announced he's getting married--and it makes perfect sense that he has the role he assays for the wedding proper at the end.

10) I do have to wonder, given Fredrick Loesser's tendency to do these unusual lyrical phrasings, if this musical influenced Stephen Sondheim in some way. Hell, this does seem like a prototypical Sondheim musical. the risk of uncorking a cliche, this is the kind of movie they Just Don't Make Any More, a fairy tale of a musical in modern dress that survives--and excels--through its charm, energy and faith in its audience. If you're at all interested in the classic movie musical, you do need to see this.

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