Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer: Guys and Dolls, To Be or Not to Be

"GUYS AND DOLLS" (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1955)

Another one of those bloated, overlong widescreen musicals, Guys and Dolls, the story of a chronic gambler who reassess his view on life and women, is a bit of a crooning bore.
Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons - both unnatural singers - give the two best performances in the film bar none. Which isn't to say that they would survive a panel lead by Simon Cowell, but that their unlikely love saga - he a gambler, she a missionary - provides the sole tension in an otherwise flat and unsavory shebang.

In a film where all of the musical numbers fuse from one to the next into obscurity - most from the original Broadway production, some from written solely for the screen - at least we perk up a little when Brando or Simmons decide to belt one out. Everything else? Meh. [C+]

"TO BE OR NOT TO BE" (Ernst Lubitsch; 1942)

Part wartime Nazi resistance spy thriller and part screwball comedy, To Be or Not to Be ('42) is one of German-born Ernst Lubtisch's finest works alongside Trouble in Paradise ('32) and The Shop Around the Corner ('40).

The story of a Polish theater group who essentially act their way out of Nazi Europe, the film was considered too morbid and exploitative given the current state of affairs overseas. Critics and audiences were so enraged by the insensitive subject matter that they failed to realize just what a fiery and unmistakably satirical masterwork it is.

To Be or Not to Be will also always be tragically known as famed actress Carole Lombard's last role, released posthumously two months after her sudden death in the crash of TWA Flight 3. She couldn't have asked for a more fitting farewell from the screen. [A]

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