Guys and Dolls

My Uncle Lou was a life-long bachelor who called women “dolls” and spent weekends at the racetrack.  His idea of a hot date was taking a “doll” along to the racetrack on Saturday night.  They’d eat dinner in the cafeteria and then he’d give her $20 to bet on any horse she wanted, but if she won, she’d have to split her earnings fifty-fifty.  Either that, or pay him back the twenty.

When I graduated college, I got a job working in a museum downtown, just a few blocks from his office.  We used to meet for lunch in this deli where all the waitresses knew him.

“Oh, no.  Look who’s back,” one of them would say when he walked in the door.

“Hey, Lucy.  Be polite.  I’ve got my niece with me today.”

“You’re related to him?  You have my sympathy, hon.”

“Just bring me a bowl of soup, wouldya?”

Watching “Guys and Dolls” put me in Uncle Lou’s world.  Okay, he never took part in a floating craps game (to my knowledge), but he knew guys like Nathan Detroit, Harry the Horse, and Nicely Nicely Johnson.  Miss Adelaide was the type of doll he’d have taken to the track, and I’m sure he’d have treated her no better than Nathan did.

But here’s the thing:  Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson had no place in that world.  Leave the singing and dancing aside — you can see he was trying his best to keep up with Frank Sinatra — it’s like he’s in a different movie.  I mean, the guy needs to lighten up, he’s like grim death every time he walks into a scene.  Not even the lovely Jean Simmons could bring him out of his funk.  Watching him woo her in a Havana nightclub was worse than having a root canal.

One final complaint:  Frank Sinatra should have been the one to sing “Luck be a Lady.”  Here’s Old Blue Eyes in Vegas, singing “Luck be a Lady” the way it was meant to be sung:

(26 December 2010)

Angel Face

Bad women in B movies have to die. Usually they take some poor sucker down with them. Makes for a better story, a cautionary tale.  But sometimes you can feel the director chafing against the constrictions.

That’s the case with “Angel Face,” Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons. Awesome camerawork, wonderful acting, and one hilarious line in the prison mental hospital where Simmons’s character has been committed after murdering her father and stepmother, with the presumed help of Mitchum’s character. Simmons is wealthy, and the family lawyer is determined to get her off, so he convinces her to wed Mitchum’s character right there in the ward. Mitchum resists; he’s really a decent sort, but no match for Simmons. Guy’s out of his depth.

So the Justice of the Peace pronounces them man and wife. Simmons is in bed, with Mitchum (under police guard) standing next to her. Off to the side, one of the lunatics applauds, then the camera pans to her and you see she’s carrying over a little wedding cake, trailed by another lunatic:

“There ain’t much we can say but, kid, we sure hope you beat the rap!”

I wish that irreverent spirit had been maintained throughout the film. Unfortunately, it grew more ponderous as it went on and by the end—which took ages to arrive—I was predicting that Simmons would kill both herself and Mitchum. It seemed like the only way out. Still, I was unprepared for the way she carried it off.

She had this sports car and she was supposed to be driving him to the bus station (he was leaving her). She brought along a bottle of champagne and two glasses. As he was opening the champagne, she reversed at high speed and backed them over a cliff.

Very satisfying.
(27 July 2011)