Guys and Dolls (1955)

Last week, 20th Century Fox announced a remake in the works of this 1955 film which was based on a 1950 Frank Loesser stage musical. The stage production was adapted from Damon Runyon’s short story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.” In all its incarnations, the story has proved delightful to many audiences; it is a story worth retelling. In my estimation, the most crucial elements to creating a successful remake will be the casting of actors who can sing, dance, and play their characters inventively without trying to be Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, or Vivian Blaine. Most importantly, Michael Grandage (who was announced as the forthcoming film’s director) will need to pay attention to include many small details that allow the story to subtly move beyond its giddy, goofy, and lighthearted exterior into a story with substance about marriage, gender, sex, and faith as Joseph L. Mankiewicz did in the 1955 film.

Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) and Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) are rival gangsters and gamblers who make room in their “careers” for very unusual dealings if the payoff is good enough. They bet each other over things like how much cheesecake a restaurant sells and whether or not Nathan can remember what color tie he is wearing at a given moment. The story is built around Nathan’s attempt to set up a crap game while knowing the police are trying to find and hinder the plan. As part of his attempt to make the game happen, Nathan and Sky make their strangest wager of all; Nathan bets that Sky cannot get a date with Sgt. Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of Save-a-Soul Mission (think Salvation Army)in which he must take her to Havana, Cuba (from New York City). The scene where this bet is made, along with all early scenes involving Sky and Nathan together, show these two characters as extremely misogynistic. In one of these scenes, Sky utters the notorious line, “I am not putting the knock on dolls. It’s just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy, like cough drops.”

As Sky approaches Sgt. Brown, we see a type of conversion taking place. They talk about the Bible, about sin, about repentance, and he shows a respect for the Bible but disinterest toward any change of his life. As he continues the process of his bet, however, his attitude toward women, toward love, and toward his own life changes dramatically. There is a scene in Havana where he gets Sarah drunk (unwitting on her part). He has a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the situation sexually; typically in the 1950s, characters would be seen beginning to kiss as the camera shifts away to tell the audience that sex is about to happen without needing to show anything that the Hayes Code would not allow them to show. However, we don’t get a scene like that here. Sarah talks about a nervous habit where she fiddles with her clothing and accidentally unbuttons part of her top. When Sky is faced with the opportunity he entered the situation hoping for, he reaches toward her, quietly and unassumingly, and he buttons her back up.

Subtleties like this show believable changes in the characters and even indicate an openness to all of what Sarah Brown stands far, including her faith in Jesus. While the story finds no need in explicitly telling us any of Sky’s specific spiritual conviction (before of after Sarah), the audience sees a genuine spirit of repentance in Sky. We are invited to see how he has learned to love, not merely in a romantic sense, but through respect of other people that he did not possess at the beginning of the story.

Guys and Dolls is one of the funniest films ever made. By focusing on the moral and spiritual journey of Sky Masterson, I have probably given an impression of much greater importance than the movie actually claims. I do so, nevertheless, to encourage viewers to pay close attention to the small details throughout the movie. Through these nuances, great depth is evident, much more than we would expect entering such a crazy comedy. As with the wit, the musical elements are continuously entertaining. Even Marlon Brando’s singing is quite good. Frank Sinatra supposedly called Brando “Mumbles” throughout filming, never giving up his disapproval of the decision to cast Brandon in the role he wanted for himself. Brando’s performance of the show’s most popular number “Luck Be a Lady” is handled appropriately to compensate for Brando’s weaknesses as a singer and to highlight his masterful acting ability. Ironically, only a few years later, Frank Sinatra recorded a version of “Luck Be a Lady” that became his signature song. All the characters are well-drawn to fit the romanticized view of 1940s New York gangsters that all versions of the story have intended to portray.

So, in recommending Guys and Dolls, I recommend it for the fun, escapist entertainment that it appears to be. But I also suggest looking deeply into the messages hidden throughout the film. These messages of repentance, respect, and equality elevate the film from its surface escapism into an intelligent and spiritual experience.

Stumble AlertGuys and Dolls has no objectionable content and is appropriate for all ages.

Also Directed by Joseph L. MankiewiczAll about Eve (1950)

List: Great Film Adaptations of Broadway Musicals

Throughout the month of June, Turner Classic Movies is celebrating the upcoming Tony Awards (Sun. June 12) by spotlighting stage to screen adaptations two nights a week. Wednesday evenings-Thursday mornings they will show adaptations of plays, and Thursday evenings-Friday mornings they will show adaptations of musicals.

Here is a list of the musical adaptations I consider the best (I will do the same with film versions of plays next week). In order to be considered for this list, a film must be a version of a musical that has appeared on Broadway. If the movie airs on TCM this month, I will note that in the description so you catch it on TV. With each description, I also include a link to a video with what I consider to be the best song in each movie.


10.     Oliver! (1968)


Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of Dickens’ Oliver Twist has been on Broadway three times: 1963-64, 1965, & 1984. Carol Reed directed the 1968 movie version starring Mark Lester, Ron Moody, Jack Wild, Oliver Reed, and Shani Wallace.

Best song: “Consider Yourself

TCM: Friday, June 17 (6:15PM EST)


9.       Guys and Dolls (1955)


Frank Loesser’s musical, based on Damon Runyan story, has been on Broadway six times: 1950-53, 1955, 1965, 1976-77, 1992-95, & 2009. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed the 1955 movie version starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine. This week, it was announced that a remake is in the works.

Best song: “Adelaide’s Lament

TCM: Friday, June 10 (3:00AM EST)


8.       The Phantom of the Opera (2004)


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, based on the Gaston Leroux novel, opened on Broadway in 1988; it still runs today and is the longest-running show in Broadway history. Joel Schumacher directed the 2004 movie version starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver, and Miranda Richardson.

Best song: “All I Ask of You


7.       Fiddler on the Roof (1971)


Joseph Stein wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of his own stage musical based on several stories by Sholom Aleichem. The show has been on Broadway six times: 1964-72, 1976-77, 1981, 1990-91, 2004-2006, and a current production that began its run in December 2015. Norman Jewish directed the movie version starring Tool, Norma Crane, and Leonard Frey.

Best song: “If I Were a Rich Man


6.       Chicago (2002)


Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, and John Kander wrote the stage musical based on based on a non-musical play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. The show has been on Broadway twice: 1975-77 and a current production that began running in 1996. Rob Marshall directed the movie version starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, and John C. Riley.

Best song: “Mr. Cellophane” (Warning: This video contains tame sexual dialogue and one curse word).


5.       Show Boat (1936)


The Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern musical has been on broadway seven times: 1927-29, 1932, 1946-47, 1948, 1954, 1983, and 1994-97. James Whale directed the movie version starring Irene Dunn, Alan Jones, Charles Winninger, Paul Robson, and Helen Morgan.

TCM: Tonight at 8:00PM EST

Best song “Ol’ Man River

4.       Cabaret (1972)


Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb, and John Kander wrote the stage musical based on based on a non-musical play by John Van Druten. The show has been on Broadway four times: 1966-69, 1987-88, 1998-2004, and 2014-15. Bob Fosse directed the movie version starring Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, Helmut Griem, and Marisa Berenson.

Best song: “Willkommen” (Warning: As the title suggests, the film is set in a highly sexualized atmosphere, yet it is handled without showing any sex or nudity; the film is rated PG but is nonetheless quite sexual in its context, and this clip is no exception.)

TCM: Thursday, June 30 (8:00PM EST)


3.       On the Town (1949)


The Betty Comden/Alfred Green/Leonard Bernstein musical has been on Broadway four times: 1944-46, 1971-71, 1989-89, and 2014-15. Stanley Donen directed the movie version starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, and Alice Pearce.

Best song: “You Can Count on Me” (Warning: If you haven’t already seen this movie, this video will probably seem extremely bizarre and pointless outside the context of the full movie but in context it’s hilarious).

TCM: Friday June 3 (7:15AM EST)


2.       Carmen Jones (1954)


The Rogers and Hammerstein musical is based on the Geoges Bizet opera Carmen and adapts the lyrics into English and the story into 1940s Chicago. The show has been on broadway three times: 1943-45, later in 1945, and 1946.The movie version was directed by Otto Preminger and stars Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Pearl Bailey.

Best song: “Dat’s Love


1.        Les Misérables (2012)


Alain Boubil’s musical, based on Victor Hugo’s novel, has been on Broadway three times: 1987-2003, 2006-08, and a current production that began running in 2014. Tom Hooper directed the film with all the singing performed in front of the camera instead of in a sound booth. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and Amanda Seyfried.

Best song: “Do You Hear the People Sing?” (Warning: This video involves some violent content at the end, after the song is complete.)

David and Lisa (1962)


The subject of mental illness was not dealt with much in the arts in 1962. When it was, it was usually built around offensive stereotypes and labels: “crazy,” “nuts,” “loonies,” etc. The only exceptions I know of prior to David and Lisa are Now, Voyager (1942), The Snake Pit (1948), and The Three Faces of Eve (1957). These were all sensitive and respectful to the mentally ill (The Snake Pit was rightfully very critical of the general state of mental health care at the time); they used the best knowledge available at their respective times regarding the types of illness they dealt with, although that was extremely limited.

Psychological expertise was still limited in 1962, but Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin  was one of the most influential psychologists who changed this. Especially between the 1950s and 1970s, his writing helped to de-stigmatize mental illness and to educate the masses. His short story “Lisa and David,” a fictionalized compilation of many of his real experiences, was the basis for Frank Perry’s film which brought Dr. Rubin’s important work to a larger audience. The film, set in a mental hospital with all teenaged patients, never tells its audience any diagnoses for its characters. David (Kier Dullea), a patient, suggests that his fellow patient Lisa (Janet Margolin) is schizophrenic, but the film never confirms or denies David’s suggestion. From a current perspective, Lisa’s diagnosis would most likely be a dissociative disorder, and David’s would be OCD and generalized anxiety disorder.

The lack of specificities regarding the diagnoses is crucial to the film’s impact toward de-stigmitazation. It takes both nature and nurture seriously without favoring one over the other in why any of the patients behave as they do. They are sick organically, but they are also deeply wounded emotionally. Since no false dichotomy between nature and nurture is evident, the film interacts with the spiritual truth that we live in a fallen world where nobody’s body or mind is perfectly healthy. This truth is illustrated beautifully in a scene where several patients take a walk together and stop by a train station where a rude, bigoted man bullies them, and their bold, unified response points to the reality that he is just as sick (though in a very different way) as they are (see that scene here).

David and Lisa is predominantly about two relationships: obviously the relationship between the two title characters and also the relationship between David and Dr. Alan Swinford (Howard De Silva). Both of these relationships are hindered by David’s fears. His fears are vividly displayed through dream sequences that are among the greatest scenes in film history (see the film’s first dream sequence here). Many look at David and Lisa as a romance, but the movie never gives any indication that the main characters have anything resembling attraction for one another. What they do have for one another (and what David and Dr. Swinford also have for one another), however, is a relationship that confronts each other other’s fears and forces them to face those fears. As those fears are worked through, the characters learn to choose love rather than  the the fear that previously blocked their abilities to give and to receive love. By thoughtfully and sensitively showing the lives, struggles, and progress of mentally ill patients, David and Lisa also provides a stunningly strange, profound, and moving portrait of the truth that love casts out fear.

Stumble Alert: There is no objectionable material in this film. Its depictions of mental illness, however, are realistic and intense. As such, the film is not appropriate for children not mature enough to understand the topics at hand.

Watch David and LisaThis movie is currently available for free with an Amazon Prime account. You can also see it in its entirety on Youtube (click here), but I cannot find any copyright information for the movie, so it is possible that this video will not last long).

Exploring Film Masterpieces

Welcome to Exploring Film Masterpieces. I am Edmund Bertram, film enthusiast. I am a Christian who believes in the prophetic value of all of the arts. To this end, I watch movies understanding that the makers of the film, whether they realize it or not, are gifted by the Triune God to share a message to the world that has originated from God. Undoubtedly, because of the fall and the fact that most people in the arts do not know God or understand that their talents are prophetic gifts these messages are tainted and often difficult to discern because of the sinful influence also evident. Nevertheless, the gift is there; the divine is there. My purpose for this website is to share my love of film and to seek out the prophetic in it with you, my readers.

Every Tuesday, I plan to post a review of a classic film (I refer more to quality than to age when I use the word “classic” as I will review films from all periods of cinematic history) where the goal is to highlight the prophetic of that movie. I will also post a themed list each Thursday that will give you ideas of what you may want to watch next.

As a Bible-believing follower of Jesus, I take sin seriously and do not want to condone or dismiss the destructiveness of it. I am broad, even liberal with films I watch as I do not believe that experiencing something that depicts sinful acts equates supporting the actions. I will make that abundantly clear in the reviews I will post on Tuesdays. Having said this, I also take seriously the fact that every person is vulnerable to temptations from very different triggers. Because of this, I will provide warnings with each film I review (and in lists when applicable) that I will call “stumble alerts,” because I am confident that it is not sin to watch the material, but it could trigger temptations for some people that I do not want to encourage.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope to have fruitful and live dialogue through this site. Thank you for commenting and for in me in my exploration of film masterpieces.