Plot: The story takes place among the small-time underworld characters of New York. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) runs a “floating crap game” (held in a different place each time) that provides entertainment and bankrolls for many members of the community. His problem is that he can’t find a place to have the next game. The only place available wants $1000 up front, and he does not have it. Furthermore, his (very) long- term fianceé, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), a showgirl, is so distressed over his failure to marry her that she has developed a psychosomatic cold.
Trying to get the money he needs, Nathan makes a bet with Sky (as in willing to bet sky-high) Masterson (Marlon Brando). After Brando brags that he can get any “doll” to go out with him, Nathan challenges him to ask Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons), the local mission worker. Sky persuades Sarah to go to Havana for dinner, and, after he spikes her drink with liquor, they have a wonderful time, and she starts to fall in love with him.
When they get back, however, she finds that the crap game was held in the mission, and feels betrayed. In order to persuade her that his intentions are honorable, Sky rolls the dice in the crap game against the “souls” of the other players, and when he wins, they must all go to a meeting at the mission, the two couples get married, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Discussion: This musical classic, based on the stories of Damon Runyon, is a lot of fun, despite the fact that two of the leads are not singers and none of them can dance. But Brando and Simmons do surprisingly well, especially in the scenes set in Havana, and the movie is brash and splashy enough to be thoroughly entertaining.
Themes worth discussing include honesty in relationships and in competition (Harry the Horse cheats and threatens the other players) and how people decide whether to align themselves with (or between) the two extremes presented by the mission workers and the grifters and gamblers. Questions for Kids:
· Adelaide says she has developed a cold from waiting for Nathan to marry her.
· How do people get physically sick from unhappiness or worry?
· What is the meaning of Sky’s father’s advice about the deck of cards? Is that good advice?
· Who changes the most in this movie? How can you tell?
Connections: Other movies based on Runyon’s colorful characters include “Little Miss Marker” (three versions, one called “Sorrowful Jones,” but the best one has the original title and stars Shirley Temple), “Lady for a Day” (remade with Bette Davis as “Pocketful of Miracles”), “The Lemon Drop Kid” (also filmed twice, with the Bob Hope version the better one), and a very sad movie starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda called “The Big Street.”
Activities: Kids who like this movie may enjoy reading (or having read aloud to them) some of Damon Runyon’s stories, especially “Butch Minds the Baby.”