Friday, August 14, 2009

Music Man

I used to detest musicals---whether on Broadway or on film.

I found myself unable to wrap my arms around the idea of people having a conversation and then breaking out in song.

They used to make my skin crawl, those musicals.

So naturally, I wish they would bring them back.

It's an about-face I'm doing, and I admit it. I also didn't used to care for westerns, either, but I find myself missing a good one nowadays. The big, blue sky, the horses, the barroom brawls, the gunfights, the camping outside under the stars.

I pine for that stuff now.

I think it's part of my longing for yesteryear with its distinctly reduced amount of everyday strife.

I watched "Guys and Dolls" last night, in case you're wondering where this is coming from.

It's a DVD I've had for months, because I asked for it, to be honest.

I got on a jag where I wanted to watch "Guys" and "West Side Story" and others of that ilk.

Plus, "Guys and Dolls" has Frank Sinatra, and that's always a winner. And Sinatra's last name is Detroit in the movie, so that's another good thing.

But Frankie doesn't have the lead male role.



That honor goes to Marlon Brando, who plays the part of Sky Masterson, which is the part that Sinatra really wanted instead of Nathan Detroit.

The story, real quick: Detroit runs a roving craps game in Damon Runyan's New York City, and is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of Lt. Branigan. Masterson is a big-time gambler.

Detroit needs $1,000 to buy the permission to hold one of his famous craps games in a residential area. Only, he doesn't have the money and decides the quickest way to get it is to sucker Masterson into a $1,000 bet that Sky can't possibly win.

The bet? That ladies' man Sky can't convince straight arrow Sarah Brown, who runs the Save-a-Soul Mission in Manhattan, to accompany him to Havana, Cuba for dinner the next day.

Naturally, Sky takes the challenge (and the bet) and goes to work on poor Sarah, played by Jean Simmons.

Long story short: Sky indeed gets Sarah to Havana while Nathan runs his craps game on credit, believing that he's a sure winner of the $1,000.

There's romance, too---as Nathan is being pestered by his longtime girlfriend, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), to marry her. Sky and Sarah Brown, the more they get to know each other, fall in love, too.

And I simply haven't done the story justice, but there you have it.

You might wonder why Brando landed a singing role, when he was certainly not a singer by trade.

That's a question that Sinatra would have liked answered.

Deeply disappointed that he didn't land the role of Sky, Frankie took to calling Brando "Mumbles" for his lack of singing ability and his unique way of speaking.

One of the story's signature songs, "Luck Be a Lady," was actually sung by Brando, but perhaps out of spite, Sinatra turned it into one of his signature tunes.

Production notes say that all of Brando's singing numbers were pieced together from multiple takes.

The film version of the Broadway production looks to have been shot on what must have been one of the biggest sound stages in the world. Building after building, big, lighted signs, cars driving up and down the "streets"---it was very impressive.

They don't make musicals anymore, or westerns, really.

Just when I was getting to like them, too.

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