movie review: Guys & Dolls (1955)

For the longest time, all I knew about Guys & Dolls was that my mom didn’t want my siblings and I to watch it. (Understandable—I wouldn’t show it to my younger siblings today!) That kept it off my radar for quite a while. Recently, however, I learned that one of my friends considers Guys & Dolls to be, most likely, her favorite musical. How could I not give it a try? (Though I will confess however, that, even with that recommendation, I doubted I would like it much. Oh me of little faith. 😉)

Anyway, I watched Guys & Dolls. And rewatched it. And now I love it. So…review time!


THE STORY

Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) is (in)famous for running the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” despite protests from his fiancée Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) who just wants Nathan to settle down and live a normal life. There are a bunch of guys in town, ready and eager to play, but Nathan has a problem—he doesn’t have the $1,000 needed to rent a place at which to host the game. You see, the crap game is illegal and new locations are hard to find, especially with a certain Police Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith) breathing down Nathan’s neck.

To raise the money, Nathan bets high-roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that Sky cannot persuade Sister Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a worker at the Save-A-Soul mission, to accompany him to Havana within the next twenty-four hours. Sky accepts the bet and what follows is a delightful musical involving two different romances (and no love triangles!), a number of great songs, and lots of fun in general.

As a writer, I find Guys & Dolls to be an excellent example of the writing advice that says every major character should have a goal, some motivation that carries them not just through the story as a whole, but through each individual scene as well. Not only that, but it’s best if there’s an internal goal and an external one—and better still if those two goals conflict. Guys & Dolls does all of that beautifully. For instance…

  • Nathan wants to run his crap game and make lots of money. BUT he also loves Adelaide and doesn’t want to lose her.
  • Adelaide wants Nathan to quit the game and live a normal life and marry her (they’ve been engaged for, um, fourteen years). BUT if she can’t make him quit—is she content to accept him anyway?
  • Sky wants to win the bet Nathan made with him. BUT he also finds himself falling in love with Sarah for real and doesn’t want to hurt her reputation.
  • Sarah wants sinners to come to the mission so that headquarters won’t shut them down. BUT the only way to make that happen is to go to Havana with Sky (long story).
  • Brannigan wants to shut down Nathan’s crap game. BUT (or AND) deep down he also wants Nathan and Adelaide to be happy. (I promise I’m not making this up! Didn’t you see how he jumped on the ‘Nathan’s going to elope with Adelaide tomorrow’ bandwagon? I mean, he even suggested it! And he *spoilers* walked Adelaide down the aisle/street.)

See? It’s all sooooo good and rich.

THE CHARACTER(S)

So, yes, they’re all great: Nathan, Adelaide, Sarah, Brannigan, Nicely-Nicely, Big Jule, Arvide Abernathy, and so on. Honestly. I have such fun hanging out with them.

But Sky Masterson, you guys. SKY MASTERSON.

Guys & Dolls is the first Marlon Brando movie I’ve ever seen. All I really knew about him before was that he starred in The Godfather (which I haven’t watched). But, well, I’m a tiny bit obsessed now—not just with Brando, but with Sky too. Which honestly surprises me! I think if I’d gone into the film expecting to like Sky, I wouldn’t have? Idk? But because I had zero expectations, I think I fell in love with him the way Sarah does in the film. I found Sky insincerely charming and problematic at the beginning of the film (though also funny, hehe). But as the story progresses, Sky begins to change—and so did how I felt about him.

The big swoon-worthy moment (for me) comes around the middle of the film when a half-drunk Sarah, thinking it’s a good idea for her and Sky to just stay in Havana, protests “I know what I’m doing!” And Sky says, dead serious, “Do you, kid? I don’t.” Because he’s never been in love before! And it’s all new and strange! And he’s changing almost without knowing it! This is the guy who was saying just a day ago that women were—to sum it up in one word—interchangeable. But now he’s falling in love and realizing that everything he said to Nathan on the subject wasn’t actually true. Such good character development. I melt.

Later on, Sky tells Nathan that Sarah didn’t actually go to Havana with him—lying for Sarah’s sake even though it costs him $1,000. And I melt even more. Because…MAN. I just love him. ❤

Well, they’re adorable. (source)
Also, this.

(Did I write this review mainly so I could fangirl about Sky? Maybe a little bit…)

THE SONGS

What’s a musical without a bunch of unforgettable songs? Definitely not Guys & Dolls! XD

For the past several days, my brain has been all “I’ve got the horse right here/His name is Paul Revere” or “Call it sad, call it funny/But it’s better than even money/That the guy’s only doing it for some doll” or “Follow the fold and stray no more/Stray no more, stray no more.” Or lines from almost any of the other songs. Gets borderline annoying, not going to lie. But also…they’re great songs!

It’s hard to pick favorites. ‘The Oldest Established’, ‘I’ll Know’, ‘Guys and Dolls’, ‘A Woman in Love’, ‘Luck, Be a Lady’, ‘Sue Me’, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’—so many good ones. (‘More I Cannot Wish You‘ and ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before‘ are also beautiful—the second one especially—but they weren’t included in the film. Sigh.)

Side-note: I know there was a LOT of rivalry between Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando during the making of this film, mainly because Sinatra wanted the part of Sky Masterson. But even though Sinatra has the better singing voice…I’m glad the casting worked out the way it did. I don’t care that Marlon Brando wasn’t a professional singer—he still threw all his acting (and singing) ability into the role of Sky.

And it worked out so well.


Have you seen Guys & Dolls? Who’s your favorite character? What’s your favorite song? Let me know in the comments!

Eva-Joy

21 thoughts on “movie review: Guys & Dolls (1955)

Add yours

  1. Girl, allow me to introduce you to some Marlon Brando! 😀 I think his quintessential role is either Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire (which is also not for your younger siblings – very dark, but very deep) or Terry in On the Waterfront (very GOOD but very deep – it would possibly fly over the head of your younger siblings). I HIGHLY recommend both – as in, I can’t stress HOW highly. Must, must, MUST watches. But my absolute favorite movie of his that I’ve seen so far is Sayonara, in which he plays a SOUTHERN Air Force major, Ace Gruver. As with his singing in Guys & Dolls, it really doesn’t matter that the accent obviously doesn’t come natural to him, because he throws himself into it and gives it his all. It’s an almost epically long movie (stopping several times for scenes of Japanese culture that at once annoyingly slow the plot’s momentum but are somehow fascinating), but the overall story, and what he brings to the character and to his progression, are my personal favorite. His reactions to Hana Ogi and the way he goes about “courting” her particularly make me melt. ❤ There’s also The Young Lions (available on YouTube) which is definitely epic-length, but I love it, too – though I don’t find Brando’s arc as captivating as Dean Martin’s and Montgomery Clift’s, even though it’s arguably the most important.

    Still, there’s something about Brando that stops me short of declaring him one of my “favorite” actors…Yet maybe he actually is and I don’t realize it, since my immediate reaction to reading that this was your first of his films was, “Oh. My. GOSH. 😀 She’s got to see this, and this, and this…” 😉 I think it’s because he made such GOOD choices – compelling, layered, nuanced films (and characters) that really make you think. I include Guys & Dolls in that as well…My parents wouldn’t have wanted me to see it either, I’m sure. And that level of protectiveness, while good, can keep you stuck in black-and-white thinking long after you’re past the age and maturity level to be ready for more. (Or, in my case, maybe it was my own personality that did that.) In fact, I credit this pandemic exposure to classic films with opening me up and helping me how in many ways. (It’s one of the reasons I started my blog.) And I haven’t seen a Brando film yet that’s metaphorically “black-and-white”. They’re all much richer than that, and my advice is: Go into them open. 🙂

    As for Guys & Dolls, maybe I need to revisit it. I certainly won’t say I didn’t LIKE it (I have all of Brando and Sinatra’s numbers saved in a Favorites playlist on YouTube), I just think I watched it too close to discovering the stage show, so I was distracted and disappointed by the differences. (More I Cannot Wish You is my absolute favorite, and it really hurt my heart that it wasn’t included.) Maybe seeing it again now that there’s a little more space between me and the Broadway version would make a world of difference.

    Finally, a general Guys & Dolls question: What are your thoughts on Marry The Man Today? I find it problematic, and I can’t get around it. Was it in the film? (I can’t remember.)

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    1. So, I have On the Waterfront on hold at the library right now–another friend also recommended it to me and I’m just waiting until I can get my hands on it. 😉 I looked up A Streetcar Named Desire and…I don’t think I’ll watch it, just because I know I’d hate Marlon Brando’s character and the subject matter doesn’t seem the most wholesome. XD But I’ll definitely let you know what I think of On the Waterfront! As for Sayanora…I actually started watching that a few weeks ago. I got about half an hour in and decided it was too boring and just not for me. But after I read your comment, I went back and watched the whole thing! I didn’t love it, but I’m still glad I saw the whole thing. And you’re the reason for that. ❤ (I DID love the last scene!) Really want to see The Young Lions too–I think my family might even own a DVD copy.

      It's great that you started seeing more classic films recently! (Even if the cause was something so bad. :P)

      I heard More I Cannot Wish You first in a superhero show, of all places. It was a musical episode of the otherwise serious show and I love that version best of all the ones I've heard so far. I REALLY wish that they'd kept it in the film!

      I haven't listened to Marry the Man Today (it's not in the film), but I will do so and then DM you on Instagram with my thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awww…I’m so glad I inspired you to revisit Sayonara! ❤ Thanks for telling me. 🙂

        The first time I saw it, I loved the basic story, but not the “extras” that slowed that story down. It eventually expired, but returned to me recently – and I went into it again planning to skip some parts. But to my surprise, I watched every single minute. Once you’re in the flow of that world, nothing seems skippable.

        Since you’ve seen it, the “courting” I was referring to was Ace coming to the bridge over and over. And I loved watching him watch her in the shows. ❤ Something I didn’t mention was that I love, Love, LOVE Eileen. 😀 If you’re going to have a “love triangle” that’s the way to do it – make the third person strong enough and smart enough to do what’s best for themself, with their own story and their own growth. I actually wish I’d seen this movie sooner, so I could’ve had her as a role model earlier in life. And I’m going to use “I better go before I lose all my charm” sometime. 😉

        Red Buttons (Joe – whom I adore) ❤ and the actress who plays Katsumi won Oscars for their performances. Marlon was nominated, and I’m pretty sure it was the actress who played Hana Ogi’s film debut! 😀 It’s interesting that it definitely could’ve been more enlightened (the attitudes toward women weren’t exactly empowering; Japanese Ricardo Montalban!), yet it was lightyears ahead of its time (Eileen is totally girl power; the couples not only loved each other, but were implied to be intimate; respectfully bringing all those moments of Japanese culture to movie audiences; that ending! – which was changed from the original novel.) Such a mish-mash of contrasts.

        I’d have to watch again to really be able to capsulize why A Streetcar Named Desire had such an effect on me. (I will post about it one day.) You’re right, it’s certainly not wholesome. But it’s more about what the story is trying to say than how good or bad the characters all on a moral level. It’s almost Shakespearean in that way: everybody’s messed up (broken people breaking each other) and things don’t end well – but although it’s dark (and I mean legit no light and no hope at all), the overall message/impact is deep and important. (Just my take, should you ever find yourself considering it again.)

        I would love to hear that version of More I Cannot Wish You! 😀 What was the show? In context, Sarah and her dad have this lovely scene where he basically tells her she and Sky are in love with each other and are good for each other even if he’s not the type of guy she had in mind. He’s being all wise, and then he sings this song to her, and my heart explodes. ❤ I still can’t believe they left it out of the film. It’s like, the whole point of the story. I’m not over it. 😉

        My favorite out-of-context performance of it Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra singing it with their daughters in a Christmas episode of Dean’s show. ❤ It’s like a double daddy/daughter duet, and the two pairs just focus straight on each other as if no one else in the world is watching. Ahhhh…The warm fuzzies! ❤

        Looking forward to your thoughts on On the Waterfront! 😀

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      2. Yes, Ace’s style of courting was actually quite sweet! I liked that part. And that scene where he and Hana Ogi have a real conversation for the first time? When she apologized for what she’d been thinking about him/all Americans, I was like “um…okayyyy, this is kind of cringy” (because she had legit grievances and it wasn’t like she’d actually done anything except THINK). But when Ace turned it around and apologized too, I kinda melted. That saved the scene for me. XD

        EILEEN YES. I loved her!! The film as a whole is a rather interesting blend of progressive and “we still have a long way to go”, but I think it is a pretty good movie overall. Very interesting to watch as a product of its time, if nothing else. (And I definitely enjoyed it more than just for that reason.) I’ve only seen Red Buttons in one other film before this, as a bit part, but he was GREAT. And James Garner too! I liked seeing him in there too.

        I won’t say I’ll NEVER watch A Streetcar Named Desire…and if I do, I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts. 😉

        Here’s that version of More I Cannot Wish You I was talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbM7tkyyQgc

        MUST look up that Dean/Frank performance.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, they were both being the person in that scene. I loved that, too. 🙂 It said a lot about both of them. ❤

        Red Buttons is one of my (relatively new) favorites. He could do it all – and did! Entertainment of all styles. But I think I like serious Red best. ❤ James Garner’s always fun – so easy and natural. (I love their discussions about Truman and all that!) And his Southern accent is REAL. 😀

        Oh, my goodness – that version is GORGEOUS. 😮 (My jaw’s still on the floor.) I’ve never heard it with harmony like that! 😀 And all three of those guys have done LOTS of theater…I knew Jesse L. Martin was a regular on the show, but are the other two (Victor Garber and John Barrowman)? I know a little about The Flash, but not much. (I got hooked on Stargirl its first season and picked up a bit of knowledge about DC Comics and the Arrowverse. 🙂 But the second season was a huge disappointment, so I’m out of the loop again.)

        Oh, I’m so glad you mentioned that Frank & Dean! I meant to go back and look it up for you, but totally forgot. 😦 I can’t find it by itself (just the song), but it’s part of their Christmas special, which is on YouTube in its entirety. 🙂 I’m skittish about sending links through comments here, because WordPress has held a couple of mine back from other people before, but I’ll DM it to you on Insta. 🙂

        AND searching for it led me to a clip of The Flash’s version. 😀 I do know who Barry is (though I don’t the other characters), and I loved when the music started, and he looked like, “Okayyy…I guess I’ll sit down now.” And then as it went on, he was expecting NONE of it. 😀 Actually, my face basically matched his when I listened to the video you sent, because I wasn’t expecting THAT either. ❤

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      4. I’m so glad you enjoyed that version of More I Cannot Wish You! I listened to it a bunch of times, even before I knew about Guys & Dolls (I forget if I mentioned that before). The thing with the cast is that the episode the song comes from was a crossover episode. Victor Garber did appear on The Flash for a few episodes, but then he went on to his own show in the same universe: Legends of Tomorrow. And John Barrowman was a regular on the show Arrow (playing a villain and possibly my favorite character on the show XD). So no, neither of them are Flash regulars–it was fun seeing them in that episode though!!

        Barry is adorable. <333

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Can I just say a big Yes and Amen, sister to this whole post!? ❤ Please add me to the Sky Masterson fan club 😉 I never thought through the writing mastery that you’ve wonderfully described, but now I definitely see it.

    Have you seen On the Waterfront? That was my next stop on the Brando road and it’s now a favorite. A great film with Oscar winning performances.

    Like

    1. Happy to have you join the club!! XD Sky is awesome. Glad I could point out something new about the film too–I always enjoy seeing favorite stories in a different way thanks to someone else’s review. ❤

      A friend of mine has told me that Brando is excellent in On the Waterfront. I've got it on hold at the library–excited for it to become available!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for the tag! Much appreciated. ❤

        (And I'll be sure to let you know what I think of Waterfront.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re very welcome! ❤

        P. S. “Adelaide” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” has been knocking around my head for the past few days. I’m still waiting for my slice of Mindy’s cheesecake though. That scene gives me a hankering every time 😉

        Like

  3. I love Guys and Dolls! I know, I know, you’re probably shocked, because it doesn’t seem at all my type of story–and it’s really not, in terms of the characters and the overall storyline. But the songs are just so FUN!!!

    My parents saw Guys and Dolls live when they were first married, so they often reminisced about how much they enjoyed it. They gave me the Guys and Dolls soundtrack for my birthday one year when I was a teenager, so of course I proceeded to immediately fall in love with the music and hum it to myself obsessively 😉 Then a couple of years ago, we went as a family to see a live production of Guys and Dolls at a local high school. ‘Twas delightful. It’s such a good show to see live because it’s full of this jolly, bouncing, rollicking energy.

    My two favorite songs are “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Particularly the latter. SO HILARIOUSLY OVERDRAMATIC. I adore it.

    Like

    1. Your comment *did* rather surprise me. XD But what would actually SHOCK me is if you liked Sky Masterson lol. (Do you? When I watched G&D for the first time, I was like “This guy is sooooooo not Katie’s type!”)

      That personal connection is awesome! Makes sense why you’d like the musical. I agree–the songs are so full of energy and fun. ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ is the BEST. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nope, your instincts are correct. I don’t like Sky Masterson 😉 But I accept him as a necessary piece of the machinery that makes the plot go. Since the plot is mostly a vehicle for the music and dancing, which I DO love.

        Yes!! My mom always sang “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat” to us when we were being too rowdy. When we watched the show live, the kid who played Nicely-Nicely Johnson was incredible. Just, UNMATCHED levels of chaotic comic energy. He wore a bright red suit and a matching red Panama hat and he leaped all over the stage like a grasshopper. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I think about it every single day. xD

        Like

      2. Hehe, okay. The universe is back to normal. XD

        Your mom knows how to make a good pop culture reference when it counts. I approve. 😉 That live show sounds like QUITE an experience! I’m already wishing and hoping I can see G&D performed live someday…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

    So, I first saw this movie on Halloween night when I was like 15. My friend and I had spent the day painting faces at a local festival, and my mom took us to the movie store to pick a movie to watch together that evening while my mom took my little brother trick-or-treating. And, almost on a whim, we grabbed Guys and Dolls from the little store’s classics shelf. No idea what we were getting ourselves into. We both knew, vaguely, who Frank Sinatra was, and the cover looked fun. That’s it.

    And we spent the jolliest evening laughing and falling in love. With the whole movie, with all the characters, and most particularly… with Sky Masterson. My goodness, I still am so in love with him. And Brando’s part of that, but the character himself is just so deep and rich and yummy.

    You need to read some Damon Runyon now. That patter they use? Is straight from his stories. Also, get this — when Runyon was a young newspaperman in NYC, he got to know this aging newspaperman who kind of took him under his wing and mentored him. And the mentor spent a lot of time telling him all about his wild younger days as a gambler out west in the Colorado area. So, years later, when Runyon decided to create a really cool gambler who came from out west, he had him come from Colorado, and he named him Sky Masterson in honor of his mentor, Bat Masterson.

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    1. Yes, exactly. I adore Brando in the role, but I love the *character* of Sky just as much. I’m still a little dizzy from HOW much. ❤

      The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown is available online (on Internet Archive and so on), and I'm going to read it!

      I knew there was a guy named Bat Masterson, and I thought of him when I heard Sky's name. Knowing the connection now gives me alllll the warm, happy feels. So heartwarming!!

      Like

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