It's another busy day in New York City, with the hustle and bustle of the cars and pedestrians, some going to work and others tourists - and then there are those who are neither, who check on the racing tips and look forward to making their money through gambling. One of those individuals is Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra), who organises craps games for the gamblers in the area, but his upcoming and lucrative event is thrown into jeopardy when Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith) makes it plain he is on his tail, intent on tracking down the location of the game and putting a stop to it. Nathan must think fast...
Guys and Dolls as it was originally on the Broadway stage was a legendary production, an enormous success that seemed a natural to follow its contemporary musicals to the big screen. However, when it did there were grumblings that director and adapter Joseph L. Mankeiwicz had not pulled it off with much degree of skill, suggesting that he was only one of the aspects that didn't fly here. Time has been kinder to the screen version than one might expect, but that question of the casting still rankles with many viewers, although perhaps not as much as it did with a certain Francis Albert Sinatra.
The fact that Marlon Brando had been awarded Sinatra's much-coveted Sky Masterson role was cause of great animosity between the stars, being in the huff with each other from the minute they stepped onto the set, although Sinatra was a man who could hold a grudge as well as he could hold a note. There were certainly eyebrows raised when Brando was cast, as a singer he was not and he fully admitted his vocal stylings were edited together from separate takes which he mimed to, but for others this unlikely choice provides the reason to watch. He could handle the dramatics and even the comedy very well, which would indicate he was not such a bad selection, it's just that singing that few would admit was ideal.
Backing up these two temperamental stars were two more reliable figures, Jean Simmons in the role of the Salvation Army's Sarah Brown, rarely looking lovelier, and from the Broadway original Vivian Blaine as Nathan's fourteen year engagement, Adelaide. Blaine knew her role like the back of her hand and proved ideal even if she wasn't the first choice, but Simmons had a genuine chemistry with Brando which helped a film lacking in pizzazz; she did her own singing too, in slightly declamatory fashion but carrying the tunes without anything too off-key. Sarah gets mixed up with Sky when Nathan bets him he cannot take her to Havana, after Sky boasted women were all the same and he could do what he liked with them.
Yes, it's that ancient plot where the woman finds out she was taken out on a wager and is naturally horrified, but for most of the running time Guys and Dolls feels a little too much like two films at once as in this adaptation it appeared Mankiewicz was trying to keep Brando and Sinatra apart as much as possible. Brando sang "Luck Be a Lady", possibly the best song in it so you can imagine how Sinatra felt about that, but if anyone steals the show it's almost at the very end where Stubby Kaye stepped up to belt out "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat": he was in the original musical too, and the song became his signature. It's well worth waiting for here, as the supporting cast seem better designed for the Damon Runyon dialogue and personalities than three of the principals (Blaine excepted), but out of curiosity value if nothing else, there's enough here to offset the leaden production to be of interest. Frank Loesser wrote those songs.