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Guys and Dolls (Blu-ray Review)

14 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$34.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine.

To launch its acquisition of the Samuel Goldwyn (Sr.) library for Blu-ray release, Warner has gone for musically pedigreed name value via two Frank Loesser scores, starting with this stage-to-screen makeover of the Damon Runyon bookie/gambler perennial — and then followed by a screen original (see below) that was huge in its day. But there’s no doubt: the headliner here, which on stage represented the composer’s career high, is the iffy but sometimes fascinating MGM-distributed extravaganza that managed to pair an actor who loathed multiple takes (Frank Sinatra) with one who liked and flourished in Method-y fashion with them (Marlon Brando in that period when he played a biker, Napoleon and a Japanese scamp just to prove he could). The ensuing tension would provide director Joseph L. Mankiewicz with one of the biggest logistical migraines a filmmaker could ever imagine — at least until he had the doubly snake-bit misfortune to take on the Taylor-Burton Cleopatra a few years later for the next thing to career ruination.

I loved the big-screen Guys and Dolls as a kid in 1956, which is when it started playing the sticks, though its staginess drives me up the wall today. But the Brando-Sinatra dynamics intrigue, Jean Simmons is inspired casting as missionary Sgt. Sarah Brown, and there are privileged moments that include stage originator Stubby Kaye’s rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and Frankie-Boy’s almost chilling beaut of “Adelaide,” one of the new tunes Loesser composed for the movie version. This was the kind of trade-off adapters of stage musicals made in those days: Scuttled were some good tunes from the Broadway version (“Marry the Man Today” and “More I Cannot Wish You”) for add-ins “Adelaide” and “A Woman in Love” (which spurred modest Billboard hits for both Frankie Laine and The Four Aces).

As a presentation, the Blu-ray is as much of a beaut as “Adelaide,” which is especially noteworthy in that there were aspect ratio/color issues with G&D releases on standard DVD.

The other Loesser/Goldwyn musical in this Warner entertainment double whammy is the Moss Hart-scripted Hans Christian Andersen (1952, $34.95, NR), which I suspect that a lot of people today don’t realize was a monster box office hit when it was floated as an almost perfect (for the time) Easter picture. Released when lead Danny Kaye was close to his peak of popularity, it is a movie made by its score, particularly given its heavy tendency to get bogged down in ballet numbers staged by Roland Petit for his real-life spouse Jeanmarie, who never registered with much charm on screen (see also 1956’s Bing Crosby Paramount swan song Anything Goes).

But it periodically springs to life with the title tune, “Wonderful Copenhagen,” “Thumbelina,” “No Two People” and “Anywhere I Wander.” In addition to helping sparking what is still a good-listen Decca Andersen tie-in LP featuring Kaye and Jane Wyman, the last three tunes spurred pop covers by, respectively, kid singer Jimmy Boyd (the one who saw his mommy kissing Santa Claus and hopefully nothing more), Doris Day and Donald O’Connor in a duet and a major Billboard hit by Julius La Rosa.

Both movies here represent the best home-market renderings of them I’ve seen — though most of the other Goldwyns, the Danny Kaye vehicles aide, are in black-and-white. Gregg Toland’s work on the The Best Years of Our Lives is on the Warner/Goldwyn Blu-ray horizon, and I can’t wait.

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