As musicals go, they don’t get much cooler than “Guys and Dolls.” Brought to the big screen in 1955 by director Joe Mankiewicz, the film is adapted from the hit Broadway play set among New York City gamblers, show girls and missionaries of all things.
From “good old reliable” Nathan Detroit to Sky Masterson to Nicely-Nicely – the guys were all slick and savvy. And the dolls – dear, longsuffering Adelaide and the fastidious Sgt. Sarah Brown – were lit from within. I could pick any number of scenes to amplify here; each one draws you further into their world of living by quick wit and by faith (faith in God for some, faith in luck for others). The story is a lighthearted and comical take on the struggle to do what’s right when your instincts are steering you in the opposite direction.
The movie stars Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine – all wonderfully cast apart from Brando’s singing voice. Nearly every scene in “Guys and Dolls” is entertaining, and every song on Frank Loesser’s Oscar-nominated score is a gem. The fast-paced opening number featuring the title song along with “Fugue for Tinhorns” (I got the horse right here!) sets up the story just as an intro should. I love both of Adelaide’s numbers at the Hot Box – the polar opposite confections “Pet Me, Poppa” and “Take Back Your Mink.” And Sarah Brown’s ebullient declaration of love in the classic “If I Were A Bell” resonates mightily with anyone who has ever been in love. There’s one of the catchiest tunes you’ll ever hear, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” sung endearingly by Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely. Then of course there’s the pièce de résistance, “Luck Be A Lady,” one of the most popular songs to come out of musical theatre thanks largely to Sinatra’s cover. The song was unfortunately sung by Brando as Sky Masterson in the movie, but Brando was great otherwise, so let’s keep the party polite (I couldn’t resist!).
But even with all that, my favorite song/scene has to be Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the ballad “Adelaide.” Sinatra plays Nathan Detroit, and Vivian Blaine gives a terrific performance as Adelaide. Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for a whopping 14 years, and poor Adelaide is at her wit’s end – her frustrations manifested in a chronic, psychosomatic cold. Nathan has been running “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” since his youth, and it always, conveniently for him, seems to interfere with his and Adelaide’s plans to wed. But for once, it looks like the crap game is indirectly going to pave the way for them to exchange their long overdue vows.
"So gentlemen, deal me out. Do not try to feel me out. I've got no more evenings free."
In this scene, Nathan has summoned all the participants of his upcoming game to his favorite diner so he can reveal the game’s location. But the heat is on, and suspicious copper Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) can’t resist coming into the diner to see why there appears to be “a hood’s convention” taking place. Nathan is also in the dog house with Adelaide because she discovered he had been lying to her about giving up the game and becoming a legitimate business man. So when she walks into the diner and gives him the high hat just as he’s fending off Lt. Brannigan and impatient gamblers, Nathan delivers the line, “It’s complete. Everybody in the whole world who hates me is now here.”
As Lt. Brannigan insists on knowing why Nathan and his cohorts are all gathered together, Nathan’s right-hand man Benny Southstreet (Johnny Silver) comes up with a brilliant excuse: It’s Nathan’s bachelor party. Adelaide rejoices, and as much as Nathan would like to run for the hills, he knows he has to go with it. Besides, he really does love Adelaide, as you’ll see from some of his other songs and speeches in the film, including this one. With “Adelaide,” he accepts his impending nuptials by admitting he’s no good but he’s willing to roll the dice since Adelaide is taking a chance on him.
It’s not the most romantic song in the world, but it’s honest. I don’t know exactly what it is about the song, but I was hooked from the opening strings that elevate right after the first line, “Unaccustomed as I am to getting married … .” The combination of the music and lyrics is gorgeous, but it’s Sinatra’s delivery that brings it on home. He was the chairman for a reason – his way with a song. Yes, he was a solid actor when he wanted to be and wielded great influence in and out of entertainment circles. But it all boiled down to his vocal styling, and with this deceptively simple, charming tune, I wouldn’t put any money on him missing the mark. Talk about your longshots.