My wife and I have been tracing the history of stage musicals from Gilbert and Sullivan to Wicked this summer. We started with Pirates of Penzance, and I was personally looking forward to when we finally got to Oklahoma (Hugh Jackman over all others to this point) and other O&H Classics. Following in chronological order after some of the O&H (we are playing a little loose, having gone to 1951 and King and I), the best bets were Annie Get Your Gun (1946/1950), Brigadoon (1947/1954), Kiss Me Kate (1948/1953) (3D if you must), and finally, Guys and Dolls (1950/1955), given the stage/movie years. I have done some other reviews. This is Guys and Dolls on screen AND on Blu-Ray.
I'll say this, Rodgers and Hammerstein held their aces on Hollywood (which they mistrusted) much longer than the others, waiting for technology to catch up. Fortunately Sam Goldwyn did the same with Guys and Dolls. First I'll address the film, then the Blu-Ray. Know that I am a music historian, although well-versed in 1890s to 1930s music more than any, and composer as well of some stage work, so have experience in this. Just the same I'd recommend looking up another valid POV - that of Richard Barrios, who has done some great work in this field.
The film - Brando is the wild card here, or is he? Yes, Sinatra clearly felt he was the ultimate Sky Masterson, and to some degree, if you look at 1965 Sinatra (and a sumptuous YouTube video of him singing Luck be a Lady for a color broadcast with Nelson Riddle), you might also think so. But ultimately, at least the way this film was conceived, Sinatra was the better Nathan Detroit, and probably had better chemistry against Vivian Blaine, the stage Adelaide, who is totally ON for this performance. But looking at Sky Masterson, originated on stage by Robert Alda (father of Alda and great portrayer of George Gershwin in 1945), Sinatra was not quite so right for his role, and his performance of Luck be a Lady was in much different context than in the musical. So Gene Kelly was a choice, but ultimately, Sam Goldwyn wanted a fresh star, and he took Brando. OK, Brando was not "much" of a singer, but he did not suck, even considering that some of his performances were sewed together from multiple takes. He acted his songs (consider that he actually sang MORE than Rex Harrison during his entire career), and acted his dancing, which in the Cuba scenes is very competent and entertaining. Kelly would have been good as well, but expected. Marlon Brando was unexpected, and when you see his performance and try to put Sinatra in there... not quite so much for 1955.
Then Sinatra - exquisite as Nathan Detroit. In fact, most of the cast was quite "poifect" for their roles. One of my favorites, Sheldon Leonard (later TV producer of I Spy and other fun stuff) as Harry the Horse. But, when talking Broadway, and this was, outside of the Cuba segment in Act II, shot as a Broadway show, the Michael Kidd choreography has to be regarded, and Stubby Kaye HIGHLY regarded. There are three pretty dynamic numbers which I call the 10:50, 10:55 and 11:00 numbers - mainly Luck be a Lady (OK, not Frank, but not terrible), Sue Me (Frank and Vivian, and great for its contrast - she is high strung, he is laid back), and Rockin' the Boat. If I ever do this on stage, I want Nicely Nicely, for no other reason than this number.
We have been noting how others tried to meet the gauntlet than R&H threw down in 1943 with Oklahoma. Irving Berlin did his darndest with Annie, but lots of those pieces could have been taken out, and overall it was far from an R&H show, but still entertaining. Brigadoon - well, the movie has less oomph than the stage version (which I have done) but Lerner and Lowe came a bit closer to that R&H paradigm. Then, of course, there is Kiss Me Kate. Cole Porter very nearly met the challenge (talking about the stage musical - particularly the 2003 presentation, not the film) but some of the pieces can still be removed, and the association between music and plot is not so much. Well, it took Frank Loesser, four R&H musicals later, to meet the challenge and more or less equal the famous duo.
In a couple of his choices, Sam Goldwyn, struggling to stay relevant in his seventies, did us few favors. For me, cutting Bushel and a Peck and replacing it with the provocative cat number, because he seemed to dislike Bushel and a Peck (not a great showcase for the Goldwyn Girls I suppose), was not the best choice. However, expanding the scope of the two love stories and slightly altering the Damon Runyan/Abe Burrows/Frank Loesser ending is actually a bonus. Joseph Mankiewicz obviously had a hand in this. So it is mixed.
Now, the Blu-Ray. I was SPOILED by Oklahoma - particularly the Todd-AO disc. I have seen so many great films on Blu-Ray and can usually tell this from this. King of Jazz (eventually it will also be available) in the current roadshow is culled from both negatives and prints, and you can tell the difference. Same with the remaining elements of South Pacific in the roadshow version (highly recommended just the same). We have seen some Blu-Ray misfires in this genre as well, most notably the blue, blue, Blu-Ray of The King and I, where in some scenes Brenner looks like the Genie from Aladdin. All I can say about this is that, like with Singing in the Rain (which was well-done in spite of what they had), this very much looks like it was restored from a print, not a negative. On a 108" screen with 1080p projector the contrast was a bit stark, and some of the color a bit too subtle, which speaks of restored print. I have not seen any definitive information either way, so can't be sure, but this is why the four stars and not five. The sound is also clearly from 4-track Cinemascope magnetic tracks, not the great 6-track Todd-AO and later formats, so a little less than great, but still good. So you will instantly be aware that you have seen MUCH better restorations of 1950s films, and I believe this (like King and I and Carousel) deserve better. But overall, acceptable if a bit less than 1080 in appearance. Worth it for the experience.
Go for it also because the features are very, very informative, and some pretty candid. I would like to have seen more on the set (how did they get a subway stop into a sound stage without building it up), but the information from Michael Kidd (as per 2005) is worth the disc alone. A Play All (something that even DVDs had more than a decade ago) would have been nice, but oh-well. What's another button push.
If ya like musicals, this will make you smile, particularly at 11:00. Guys, just do it for your dolls!