Daily Archives: August 27, 2008

Guys and Dolls and Mumbles and Ol’ Blue Eyes

“I got the horse right here.” And we got lots of different recordings of Frank Loesser’s terrific 1951 musical, Guys and Dolls. What we don’t have is the motion picture soundtrack from the 1955 film. Turns out, no one really does or, at least, no one really does legitimately.

“No complete soundtrack album was ever released due to Frank Sinatra’s contractual restrictions,” states the 2004 Theatermania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings.

In 1955, Decca Records did release four songs from the film (“I’ll Know,” “If I Were a Bell,” “A Woman in Love,” and “Luck Be a Lady”) on EPs at both 78 and 45 rpm, but of course, they don’t include any of Sinatra’s numbers. The 2000 reissue of the original Broadway cast album includes these four songs as bonus tracks. The liner notes elaborate, “Frank Sinatra’s exclusive recording contract with Capitol Records prevented Decca from releasing a soundtrack of the film featuring Sinatra’s performances.”

Do not despair, Sinatra fans. In 1963, Sinatra and labelmates such as Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Debbie Reynolds on his new record label, Reprise, recorded key songs from Guys and Dolls as part of the Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre four album set.

Guys and Dolls film

Perhaps it’s better this way. What’s terribly odd about the casting of the movie is that Sinatra was given the largely nonsinging role of Nathan Detroit and that nonsinger Marlon Brando was given the lead role of Sky Masterson! Hmm. Brando’s voice is described as a “tuneless whisper” in an NPR feature on Guys and Dolls (as part of their top 100 musical works of the 20th century). Supposedly, Sinatra referred to Brando as “mumbles.” But somehow the film works with Brando’s voice really being not so bad and Nathan Detroit’s character being given another number, “Adelaide,” to sing. Still, apart from the film, Sinatra regularly performed Sky Masterson’s signature number, “Luck Be a Lady.

Sometimes, you might see copies of the complete film soundtrack for sale. These are unauthorized bootlegs on import or dubious labels such as Motion Picture Tracks, JJA, or Blue Moon. In “Frank Sinatra: A Complete Recording History,” Richard W. Ackelson describes a 1960s soundtrack LP of Guys and Dolls as being “illegally taken from the film’s sound.” Or currently, on Amazon.com, a Spanish import version is described by a reviewer as having its songs recorded directly from the DVD and thus contain dialogue, sound effects, background noise, etc. Caveat emptor.

It is surprising that record labels Decca and Capitol, the companies that currently control them, Sinatra’s estate, or whoever else might be involved, cannot secure the rights and issue an official, comprehensive, movie soundtrack. The movie was one of the top-grossing films of 1955. The original Broadway production ran 1200 performances and its cast album hit #1 on the charts. The 1992 revival ran over 1100 performances. Other successful revivals or recordings were in 1955, 1965, 1966, 1982, and 2001, plus an African-American cast in 1976, not to mention countless regional, community, and school productions. Soundtrack or not, there are plenty of opportunities to see or hear Guys and Dolls.

— Tim


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