It’s time for another musical recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Oklahoma! and I have to tell you, this one I liked.
With a caveat.
I’ve never been a fan of Marlon Brando. I didn’t care for his performances, and I get the impression I would have detested him as a person. Knowing that he and Frank Sinatra didn’t get along on the picture, and that all of Brando’s singing had to be cut together from different takes, sometimes word by word doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the picture. In fact, with all of that, I think I respect it even more.
Featuring a number of songs by Frank Loesser that have become standards, the film follows Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) as he looks for a place to host the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York. He’s been turned down everywhere, but someone is willing to host, if he pays $1000 up front.
Nathan doesn’t have $1000, he does have a fiancee of 14 years, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) who is tiring of waiting for him, and wants him to leave behind cards and dice. But she’s not going to get in the way of him running the game.
To get the money, he goes to Sky Masterson (Brando) a man who will seemingly bet on anything. To get the money Nathan wagers Sky can’t win over a girl of his choosing. Nathan chooses Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a young woman running a mission who is looking for sinners to fill it.
Bets, misunderstandings, games, love, and great songs fill the cinema-scope screen as Sinatra and company dance and croon through a stage made to look like a stylised version of New York. With great costumes, and set design, Sinatra’s work is done for him, and the entire film is a lot of fun…
The dialogue is really stilted and lacks an authentic feel, even the delivery feels off, it’s as if none of the actors are comfortable with the words, and are merely reciting them, instead of delivering them as their characters.
It’s still a lot of fun though, mixing a variety of music, dance, and styles.
Of course, being a Hollywood musical, everything works out fairly well for all parties by the end of the film, and despite his higher billing, Brando is kept to a minimum, but I think the story could have used more Sinatra.
Ol Blue Eyes is fun and charming in the film as Nathan tries to organise the game, learn that he is actually in love with his fiancee and may lose a bet to Sky.
My kind of screen musical!