At Samuel Goldwyn and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's request, Frank Loesser wrote three new songs for the film: "Pet Me Poppa", "(Your Eyes Are the Eyes of) A Woman in Love", and "Adelaide", the last written specifically for Sinatra. Five songs in the stage musical were omitted from the movie: "A Bushel and a Peck", "My Time of Day", "I've Never Been In Love Before" (although portions of these three songs are heard instrumentally as background music), "More I Cannot Wish You" and "Marry the Man Today".
Gambler Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) seeks to organize an unlicensed crap game but the police, led by Lieutenant Brannigan (Robert Keith), are "putting on the heat". All the places where Nathan usually holds his games refuse him entry due to Brannigan's intimidating pressure. Adding to Nathan's problems, his fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), a nightclub singer, wants to bring an end to their 14-year engagement and actually tie the knot. She also wants him to go straight, but organizing illegal gambling is the only thing he's good at.
Nathan meets an old acquaintance, Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), a gambler willing to bet on virtually anything and for high amounts. Nathan proposes a $1,000 bet by which Sky must take a girl of Nathan's choosing to dinner in Havana, Cuba. The bet seems impossible for Sky to win when Nathan nominates Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), a sister at the Save a Soul Mission which opposes gambling.
To approach Sarah, Sky pretends that he is a gambler who wants to change. Sky suggests a bargain. He will get a dozen sinners into the Mission for her Thursday night meeting in return for her having dinner with him in Havana. With General Matilda Cartwright (Kathryn Givney) threatening to close the Broadway branch for lack of participation, Sarah has little choice left, and agrees to the date.
Meanwhile, confident that he will win his bet with Sky, Nathan has gathered together all the gamblers, including a visitor that Harry the Horse (Sheldon Leonard) has invited: Big Jule (B.S. Pully), a Chicago mobster. When Lieutenant Brannigan appears, Benny Southstreet (Johnny Silver), covers it up by claiming that they are celebrating the fact that Nathan is getting married to Adelaide. Nathan is shocked by this, but is forced to play along. Later he realizes he has lost his bet and must marry Adelaide.
Over the course of their short stay in Cuba, Sky manages to break down Sarah's social inhibitions and they begin to fall in love. They return to Broadway at dawn and meet the Save a Soul Mission band which, on Sky's advice, has been parading all night. At that moment police sirens can be heard, and before they know it the gamblers led by Nathan Detroit are hurrying out of a back room of the Mission, where they took advantage of the empty premises to hold the crap game.
The police arrive too late to make any arrests, but Lieutenant Brannigan finds the absence of Sarah and the other Save a Soul members too convenient to have been a coincidence. He implies that it was all Sky's doing. Sarah is equally suspicious that Sky has had something to do with organizing the crap game at the Mission and she angrily takes her leave of him, refusing to accept his denials.
But Sky still has to make good his arrangement with Sarah to provide sinners to the Mission. Sarah would rather forget the whole thing, but Uncle Arvide Abernathy (Regis Toomey), who acts as a kind of father figure to her, warns Sky that "If you don't make that marker good, I'm going to buzz it all over town you're a welcher."
Nathan has continued the crap game in a sewer. With his revolver visible in its shoulder holster, Big Jule, who has lost all his money, forces Nathan to play against him while he cheats, cleaning Nathan out. Sky enters and knocks Big Jule down and removes his pistol. Sky, who has been stung and devastated by Sarah's rejection, lies to Nathan that he lost the bet about taking her to Havana, and pays Nathan the $1,000. Nathan tells Big Jule he now has money to play him again, but Harry the Horse says that Big Jule can't play without cheating because "he cannot make a pass to save his soul". Sky overhears this, and the phrasing inspires him to make a bold bet: He will roll the dice, and if he loses he will give all the other gamblers $1,000 each; if he wins they are all to attend a prayer meeting at the Mission.
The Mission is near to closing when suddenly the gamblers come parading in, taking up most of the room. Sky won the roll. They grudgingly confess their sins, though they show little sign of repentance: "Well ... I was always a bad guy. I was even a bad gambler. I would like to be a good guy and a good gambler. I thank you." Even Big Jule declares: "I used to be bad when I was a kid. But ever since then I've gone straight, as I can prove by my record—33 arrests and no convictions." Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Stubby Kaye) however, recalling a dream he had the night before, seems to have an authentic connection to the Mission's aim, and this satisfies everyone.
When Nathan tells Sarah that Sky lost the Cuba bet, which she knows he won, she hurries off in order to make up with him.
It all ends with a double wedding in the middle of Times Square, with Sky marrying Sarah, and Nathan marrying Adelaide.Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson
Jean Simmons as Sister Sarah Brown
Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit
Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide
Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson
Robert Keith as Lieutenant Brannigan
Sheldon Leonard as Harry the Horse
Regis Toomey as Arvide Abernathy
B.S. Pully as Big Jule
Johnny Silver as Benny Southstreet
Veda Ann Borg as Laverne
The Goldwyn Girls as the Hot Box Girls (uncredited), including June Kirby, Pat Sheehan and Larri Thomas.
Robert Alda had originated the role of Sky Masterson on Broadway in 1950. For the movie, Gene Kelly at first seemed a serious candidate for the part but it went to Marlon Brando as a matter of course, partly because MGM would not loan Kelly for the production but mainly because Goldwyn wanted to cast Brando, the world's biggest box office draw by a wide margin at that time. The film ended up being distributed by MGM, Kelly's home studio. Frank Sinatra had coveted the role of Sky Masterson, and relations between him and Brando were strained. Hollywood critic James Bacon quotes Sinatra telling director Joe Mankiewicz, "When Mumbles is through rehearsing, I'll come out". Sinatra had also been considered for the part of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront; both roles went to Brando.
Since Betty Grable was not available to play Miss Adelaide, Goldwyn cast Vivian Blaine, who had originated the role onstage. Marilyn Monroe had wanted the part of Adelaide but a telephone request from her did not influence Joe Mankiewicz, who wanted Blaine from the original production.
Goldwyn wanted Grace Kelly for Sarah Brown, the Save-a-Soul sister. When she turned the part down because of other commitments, Goldwyn tried Deborah Kerr, who was also unavailable. The third choice was Jean Simmons, who had recently played opposite Brando in Désirée. Goldwyn was surprised by Simmons' sweet voice and strong acting and ultimately believed the love story worked better in the film than onstage. "I'm so happy" he said after seeing the rushes one day "that I couldn't get Grace Kelly". Director Joe Mankiewicz later called Simmons "the dream ... a fantastically talented and enormously underestimated girl. In terms of talent, Jean Simmons is so many heads and shoulders above most of her contemporaries, one wonders why she didn't become the great star she could have been."
The musical numbers performed by Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando were sung by the actors themselves, without dubbing by professional singers.
Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pully, and Johnny Silver all repeated their Broadway roles in the film.Academy AwardsNominated for Best Art Direction: Oliver Smith, Joseph C. Wright, Howard Bristol;
Nominated for Best Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Nominated for Best Costume Design: Irene Sharaff
Nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture: Jay Blackton and Cyril J. Mockridge.
Nominated for Best Film from any Source
Nominated for Best Foreign Actress: Jean Simmons
Golden Globe Awards
Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy
Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy: Jean Simmons
In 2004, the AFI ranked the song "Luck Be a Lady" at #42 on their list of the 100 greatest film songs, AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs. In 2006 Guys and Dolls ranked #23 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals.
Guys and Dolls opened on November 3, 1955 to mostly positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% out of 29 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.7/10. Casting Marlon Brando has long been somewhat controversial, although Variety wrote "The casting is good all the way." This was the only Samuel Goldwyn film released through MGM. With an estimated budget of over $5 million, it garnered rentals in excess of $13 million. Variety ranked it as the #1 moneymaking film of 1956; when a film is released late in a calendar year (October to December), its income is reported in the following year's compendium, unless the film made a particularly fast impact. Guys and Dolls went on to gross $1.1 million in the UK, $1 million in Japan, and over $20 million globally.
According to MGM records the film earned $6,801,000 in the U.S. and Canada and $2,262,000 elsewhere, resulting in a total of $9,063,000.