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Guys & Dolls [Blu-ray] [US Import]
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This CinemaScope treatment of Frank Loesser's hit Broadway musical Guys and Dolls is a deeply rewarding visual and musical experience. Frank Sinatra turns in one of his best screen performances running a close second to Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, looking adorable and singing sweetly. In essence this is a piece of photographed theatre mounted on a handsome scale. The striking set designs and a brilliantly executed soundtrack are courtesy of two Broadway craftsmen Oliver Smith and conductor Jay Blackton. Photographer Harry Stradling brings a meticulous eye for detail when his camera stationed on the auditorium side of the frame, peers into Miss Adelaide's bathroom cupboard as she views the lines of medicine bottles in her celebrated "lament". Sinatra, in his vocal prime, sings a new number to Adelaide (Vivian Blaine)--arranged by Nelson Riddle--and Brando and Simmons strike chords in all their scenes from their opening duet "I'll Know" through to their evening out at a Havana bistro where she gets pie-eyed on a Bacardi milk-shake, tipsily wondering "If I were a Bell". Stubby Kaye also from the Broadway cast recreates the show-stopping "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat". Michael Kidd's choreography for "Luck Be a Lady" is razor-sharp and superbly captured in the CinemaScope format, though the formalised staging of the opening ought to have been rethought for this medium. The biggest pity is that Loesser amended some of his lyrics and replaced several tunes from his original score with inferior material.
On the DVD: The DVD trailer hosted by Ed Sullivan makes much of the $1,000,000 cheque producer Samuel Goldwyn paid for the rights and the previews of the picture he obtained for his weekly television show. There's no denying that the remastered stereophonic soundtrack captures the Broadway sound to thrilling effect without it being overglamorised. The picture looks splendid too--never settle for the compromise version we've endured all these years on television! --Adrian Edwards
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My remastered Special Edition DVD has an excellent 16:9 colour picture with a steady print and good clear stereo sound. It is not quite as wide as the original cinema release, but the pan and scan cropping seems to have been well considered because I've not noticed anything missing at the sides when watching the DVD.
Once again the TV offerings were dire today and this afternoon we watched something better, in this case Guys and Dolls. I've lost track of how many times we've seen it since we bought the DVD in 2004, but it is always a delight to watch, especially with the addition of some tea and hot buttered crumpets and jam about midway through.
If you don't have a copy then it is something worthwhile to add to the collection.
But does it work as a film? Well, on balance, my answer is "yes", albeit with certain reservations.
Interestingly enough, the director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, has chosen to direct the film in a very "stagey " way and I absolutely love this (especially the opening scene), as I do Michael Kidd's choreography. It's not a short film, even though a number of songs from the stage show have been cut; Regis Toomey's Arvide loses his lovely solo (I've sung the part and it's great song, believe me), but more grievous still is the loss of "A Bushel and a Peck", especially as the number which replaces it, although also written by Frank Loesser, is nowhere near as effective in my opinion.
Don't get me wrong; I like this film, but I do have serious reservations about some of the casting. To my mind, the best performances come from those actors who were in the original Broadway stage production, notably Stubby Kaye's definitive Nicely Nicely and Vivian Blaine's Miss Adelaide; there are those who are of the opinion that her performance is overly "stagey", but I do not subscribe to that view. Sinatra is, of course, wonderful as Nathan Detroit, a part usually taken on stage by an actor rather than a singer, but he has an instinctive feel for the idiom and despatches his lines brilliantly. Inevitably, he gets more to sing than stage Nathans, including that fine ballad "Adelaide", written especially for the film and arranged by the great Nelson Riddle. The other star names drafted in are rather less successful, although Jean Simmons looks beautiful, acts beautifully and sings adequately as Sarah Brown.
My major bug-bear concerns the casting of Marlon Brando, whose participation was, of course, a major selling point at the time of the film's release ("Brando sings!"). What we hear of his singing apparently owes much to the skill of the recording engineers, but even so, it is extraordinarily lacklustre, to my ears at any rate. Sinatra apparently coveted the part of Sky Masterson and although Nathan is perhaps more suited to his histrionic gifts, you can nevertheless appreciate his resentment, especially when you hear Brando's low-key rendition of "Luck be a Lady", which was for many years an integral part of Sinatra's Vegas night-club act. The original choice for the part was Gene Kelly and you can only regret what might have been. The supporting players are without exception magnificent, with a special bouquet to Sheldon Leonard's Harry the Horse.
Whether you are familiar with the stage musical or not, you will, I suspect, still find much to enjoy here and as this is a "Special Collector's Edition", the additional "special features" are particularly good value.
While not exactly overloaded with extras, the new featurettes on the special edition DVD are at least an improvement on the original release, which only boasted a badly cropped fullframe version of the trailer introduced by Ed Sullivan - though that enjoyable little extra is missing from the special edition. Unfortunately the remastered transfer is more of a problem - whereas the original MGM/UA release was in the original 2.55:1 ratio, the special edition has been transferred at 2.35:1, losing detail from the left and right of the image.
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