Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Degenerate Gamblers Singing & Dancing: Guys & Dolls

This is going to be a slightly unusual blog post for me (it will be entertaining).  I am going to talk about one of my favorite old movies.

What gave me the idea to do this was something that happened when I was working on my real job, for PokerAtlas, sometime back.  One of the things I do is enter tournaments into the database so they appear online. 

Whenever I do a series, as opposed to just a regularly scheduled tournament, there is a good chance I will have to enter a HORSE tournament or two.  And whenever I come to a HORSE tournament, a certain song goes thru my head.  It is not something do intentionally, it just happens.  It is sort of a Pavlovian response. But you know what?  On this particular day, that song did not go through my mind.  A different one did instead.  Do not worry, I willl tell you what the song that I usually start humming is at the end of the post.  Since it is a needless distraction from the main point of this post, I will stick it in at the end for those of you who want to stick around.

But this particularly time, I came to a HORSE tournament and had to find the structure sheet for it to enter the details. I thought I remembered coming across that structure not too long before, so apparently I was thinking, “I’ve got that structure sheet right here….” And instead of humming the sung I usually do, I inadvertently starting humming (singing, really—and it is a good thing that I work alone--) “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…..”

It was so odd that I was not humming my normal tune that I took note of it, and wondered why I had not done that before with a HORSE tournament.  Because it is a lot more appropriate for my job than the one I normally think of.

I wonder how many of you recognize the lyrics?  It is from the opening number of the musical, “Guys and Dolls,” and you know, I kind of love that movie.

And when I was humming/singing that song as I found the structure sheet I was looking for, it dawned on me that perhaps the movie Guys and Dolls would be worth talking about here, because the subject matter relates at least tangentially to what I cover on this blog (and no, I am not referring to the fact that one of the two female leads in the movie plays a stripper).

Since the movie came out in 1955, I have no idea if you folks are familiar with it or not.  I suspect at least some of you are.  Maybe most of you.  Some of you have likely seen (or maybe even performed in) the stage musical.  Perhaps a high school production? For the record, I caught up with the movie not all that long ago, on TV, or cable, or DVD, whatever.  No, I was not there for the premiere in 1955.

Anyway, Guys and Dolls is one of those old-fashioned movie musicals that were common when it was released, but have practically disappeared.  “Chicago” was a recent example, and in fact, won the Academy award for best picture.  More recently, I guess you could cite “Les Miserables.”  But there have not been all that many lately.

The movie is based on the Broadway musical that dates back to 1950, which was based on short stories written by Damyon Runyon years earlier.  Yoy have probably heard the expression “Daymon Runyon character.”  Well, this movie is filled with Damyon Runyon characters.  In the movie, they are mostly gamblers, gangsters, crooks and other lowlifes….but deep down inside, they are not so bad.

And they have a distinct way of talking.  It is very unusual, but hard to explain, other than that they do not use contractions (except, oddly enough, in the songs).  They would never say, “I don’t know.”  It would be, “I do not know.”  It takes a bit of getting used to but eventually it becomes highly amusing.  You would not expect the average gambler to speak so well or be so polite.

Anyway, the two stars of the movie are Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.  The casting of Brando seems like an odd choice for a musical comedy.  But he had just become the biggest star in Hollywood and they wanted him.  And he was a perfect choice for the character of Sky Masterson—if you ignore the fact that the movie required him to sing and say funny lines.  This was a far cry from the heavy dramatic roles he had established himself with.  But the Masterson character was a tough guy, a wild gambler (the sky was the limit to how much he would wager) and so it did fit in with Brando’s persona.  

The casting of Sinatra was more natural.  Sinatra could have easily played either of the male leads.  Now, the Masterson role happened to be the one with more songs. It is just that, no way could Brando have pulled off playing Nathan Detroit, who was basically a schlemiel.  But Sinatra could—and did.  Effortlessly.  He is terrific in the movie.  And so, they added some extra songs for Sinatra to sing, since he was the most popular singer on the planet at the time. 

And then….yes, Brando did his own singing.  First—and I believe last—time, Brando sung in a movie.  And you know what?  Although not a great singer, he did just fine.  He could never have made it as a musical star, but he is more than just “ok.”  As importantly, Brando delivered all his comic lines flawlessly. 

The plot revolves around Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) trying to find a place to host his famous “floating crap game”—because that is what he does. He needs to win a bet from Sky Masterson (Brando) to get money to pay off someone to rent his space to host the game.  Sky will bet on anything.  The bet involves Sky having to take the virginal Miss Brown (Jean Simmons) to a pre-Castro Cuba for a date.  Miss Brown’s day job is saving sinner’s souls at a Salvation Army type of outfit.  Meanwhile Nathan is perfectly content being engaged to Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) for the past 14 years, but she would like him to finally tie the knot.

The fun is in the music and the comedy. Even if you have never seen the film, you have no doubt heard some of the songs.  The song that got me started on this post is actually titled, “Fugue for Tinhorns” and features three addicted horse players singing about how they have a sure thing in the next race—all three picking a different horse, of course.  We never find out who won that race, but my guess it was none of the three they are singing about.

And of course you have heard of “Luck be a Lady,” which was recorded by everybody including Sinatra—and it must have killed him that it was Brando singing it in the film, not him.  Other famous numbers include “I’ll know,” “A Woman in Love,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” which is a showstopper near the climax, performed by the fabulous Stubby Kaye.

When I first saw the movie, I wanted to get the soundtrack to it (on CD, I think, not 8-track).  And I was disappointed to discover that there never was a soundtrack released for it.  It seems there was a dispute between the movie studio that owned the rights to the music and Sinatra’s record label.  They could never resolve it, and thus left a lot of money on the table. A damn shame.  So, there is no soundtrack, per se, of Brando singing.  But of course, you can find the clips on Youtube. 

For me, I had to do the next best thing and buy the soundtrack to the Broadway show.  Not only was I able to find the original cast album from the 1950 production, but there was a 1992 revival that had a good cast album. That one featured Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit (also great casting).  By the way, here is a bit of trivia—the original Sky Masterson in 1950 was Robert Alda, father of Alan Alda.

Listening to the cast albums was interesting as it turns out there were a lot of songs cut from the Broadway version for the movie (and some new ones put in for the film).  I think the show’s best ballad was cut, a song you might have heard, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”  It was replaced by “A Woman in Love,” which is not nearly as good.  But that is show biz.

Anyway, the extremely colorful characters, the wonderful music and delightful humor throughout make this a very enjoyable, highly entertaining viewing experience.  Note: with all that gambling, none of it is poker.  It is either horse racing or craps, except for Sky, who will bet on anything except cheesecake. 

Did I mention the setting is New York (late 40’s I guess—but a New York that exists only for the two hours that you are watching).  Now, when the New York-New York casino opened up in Vegas, the main restrooms on the casino floor where identified with signs that said “Guys” and “Dolls”—obviously a tribute to the movie (or the play).  I loved that, and that Mens Room was favorite in Vegas. Sadly, a few years ago, they changed those signs to read simply “Men” and “Women.”  But they still have those signs on the restrooms upstairs, in the arcade area.  Passing by them always makes me think of Marlon Brando singing.

Watching this flick never fails to put a smile on my face.  I highly recommend you seek it out if you have never seen it (especially if you like Broadway style music). I dunno how it is available, but I am sure you can find it somehow, stream it, download, rent it, whatever you kids are doing these days to watch movies.

Note:  In doing a little research for this (as little as I could possibly do, of course) I found a few items indicating that there are plans to remake Guys and Dolls.  But the most recent thing I saw was about two years old, so I dunno if it is still a go or not. 

Now, getting back to the song I was humming…as I said at the outset, I do not usually hum “Fugue for Tinhorns” when I see a HORSE tournament on the schedule.  I usually starting singing, “A horse is a horse, of course, of course.”

Does that ring a bell?  It is the theme song from a old TV show called “Mr. Ed” from the late 50’s/early 60’s.  Mr. Ed was a talking horse.  Yes, of course.  You never heard of a talking horse?

I watched that show as a kid (in reruns) and loved it.  I have no idea if I would still like it as an adult, but it was fun back then.  And the theme song was extremely catchy.  You can hear the full lyrics at the link here.

Ok, not as good as the music in Guys and Dolls, to be sure, But listen a few times and see if you can get it out of your head.


  1. I don't know if I've ever actually seen the movie, but I was in Guys and Dolls in high school. Back in 1972. I played Big Jule, a small gangster part where the most memorable thing I did was get to punch Sky Masterson. I was a shoe-in for the part at almost 6' tall, heavy and fairly masculine for a teenaged girl. Had a lot of fun.

    Thanks for that little walk down memory lane.

    1. Wow, that's a very interesting story, Cranky, thanks.

      I guess that also means you got to shoot dice with no spots on them, but of course, you remembered where the spots previously were!

  2. "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name..."

    1. Yeah, another HORSE song, thanks. Can honestly say that one never ran thru my mind when dong a HORSE tournament, but now that you put the thought in my head, maybe it will....?