Guys and Dolls was the movie no one loved except the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who gave it its best comedy or musical Golden Globe that year.
At the time of its release, the film was deemed a huge disappointment considering its pedigree and all the talent legendary producer Sam Goldwyn had lavished on the production. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who had won two consecutive writing-directing Oscars for All About Eve and A Letter to Three Wives was given the assignment, which was to be his first (and only) musical.
Marlon Brando, whose performance the previous year in On the Waterfront had sealed his reputation as the screen’s foremost dramatic actor, was signed to play the singing lead. The other two leading roles were given to Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra. No expense was spared to justify the then record ten million dollars Goldwyn had shelled out for the rights.
But when the film opened it was greeted with taunts and jeers. A half-century later you watch it and ask why? It’s not only an imaginative transfer from stage to screen, it’s true to its Broadway source, and it remains a treasured record of one of the true masterpieces of Broadway theatre. Goldwyn, of course, had a long relationship with (composer-lyricist) Frank Loesser (Hans Christian Anderson) but the Goldwyn Touch meant he had the last word on everything.
He insisted on dropping the song, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and replacing it with the superior “Woman in Love,” but “Bushel and a Peck”, which had been top of the charts, was replaced by an inferior number, “Pet Me Poppa”. Brando was excoriated by the critics, but he’s extremely good in the film. Ironically, the only cast member who’s over the top is Vivian Blaine, from the original Broadway production. Marilyn Monroe coveted that role as did Bette Grable, but Mankiewicz held his ground.
Incidentally, another Broadway classic was also in competition that year, Fred Zinnemann’s Todd-AO version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. It too pleased very few critics.