A while ago I watched the 1955 musical "Guys and Dolls,"
which I had never seen. Most of the songs have since become part of the Great American Songbook
. I own it on SD DVD © 2006, having bought it before I signed up for Netflix which has it available. (When it was first released, I distinctly recall being somewhat distracted by basic training in the US Army and never saw it in a theater.)
It's another outstanding musical adapted from a Broadway hit along with "South Pacific." The "Golden Age"
of Broadway musicals ran from the 1940s into the 1960s. (Guys and Dolls on Broadway starting in 1950 ran for 1,200 performances. "My Fair Lady" - 1956 - starring Rex Harrison and ingénue Julie Andrews ran for over 2,700 performances.)
To say that they don't make 'em like they used to ignores the reality that even then, having a musical stacked with big box office movie stars of that era like Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine was over the top. As told in the two Special Features extras, this was close to Samuel Goldwyn's
swan song. As recounted by his son, he saw the Broadway production more than once and loved it. It was all about gamblers and Goldwyn knew a lot about taking chances. He'd been waiting three years for something that would be a capstone on his years of movie making. He hired Joseph L. Mankiewicz
to direct even though he'd never done a musical. And Brando had never been in a musical. Goldwyn believed in hiring the best and not getting in the way. Mankiewicz insisted that the actors sing in their own voices. No overdubbing. No problem for Sinatra of course. Brando acquitted himself adequately. (His voice was spliced from the best segments of several takes.) The big surprise was Jean Simmons who had a lovely singing voice. Vivian Blaine sings like she did in the Broadway production - loudly. But, it's in keeping with her character.
Obviously, it all worked out. Although the book was written over 50 years ago, the jokes hold up pretty well
(Vivian Blaine): The doctor says my cold is a chronic condition.Nathan Detroit
(Frank Sinatra): Yah, and it keeps coming back over and over.
The tunes are all familiar - to this old man anyway - but you don't "get" the context until you see the movie. Three new tunes were written for the film; five songs from the Broadway production were never sung in the movie but three were subtly included as background music. Frank Loesser
wrote the words and
music and was present throughout the filming.
Finally, the choreography by a relatively young Michael Kidd
is phenomenal. Kidd lived long enough to be included in the Special Feature interviews and he adds a lot with his first-hand recollections. Many of the dance numbers are taken directly from the stage production since Kidd choreographed both. The film is an interpretation of the stage play and was shot in Goldwyn's studios, not on location.
It was filmed in CinemaScope. The OAR on this SD DVD is 2.55:1 anamorphic and plays with thick black bars top and bottom. Eastmancolor. DD 5.1. (The keep case says the original audio was 3.0. The Internet Movie Database says 4.0.
The keep case claims it was "Remastered in High Definition." Even so, I thought it was a bit soft. That wasn't unusual in those days, however.
The two Special Feature extras are in widescreen 16x9 and really provide excellent background info including clips of the film to illustrate the commentary.
If you haven't already, watch it. You'll like it.