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20th Century Fox presents
Selective Service Officer: Mr. Ackerman, you don't seem to have any dependent relatives or any occupation essential to national defense. Can you think of any reason why you should not be classified 1-A?
DVD ReviewThe Young Lions was quite a controversial film in its time, but from our distant perspective—on this side of the Viet Nam war—it does not have the same impact. Released in 1958, only 13 years after the end of World War II, Marlon Brando's portrayal of what seemed to be a sympathetic Nazi character evoked strong response. We meet his character, Christian Diestl, in the film's first scene as a part-time ski instructor, wooing Margaret Freemantle (Rush) on New Year's Eve 1938 at a Bavarian resort. He cajoles her into attending a party with him that evening and, although she mentions a man she is involved with, Michael (Martin), she reluctantly accepts. Brando, with his hair dyed blonde, very much represents what might be considered the Aryan ideal. Later in the film, Simone (Doll), a Frenchwoman he meets, refers to him as a "golden god of war." As Christian and Margaret are dancing at the fête, the locals begin celebrating the success of the Nazi party with the traditional New Year's baby festooned in Swastikas and a Hitler mustache. When the partygoers begin to sing the Nazi anthem, The Horst Wessel Song, Barbara becomes upset and they step outside. She expresses her fear of the Nazis and what they represent in their assertions of world domination. Christian denies being a Nazi himself, but shows that he has sympathy for some of the ideals represented by National Socialism. He attributes the worst of the propaganda to "fanatics." Margaret cannot accept this and says goodnight, leaving him somewhat disgruntled by her decision based on politics, a subject that did not ordinarily concern him. Next, however, we see Christian in action as the German Army occupies France.
The story then switches to New York and we meet Michael Whiteacre (Martin) and his friend Noah Ackerman (Clift), young Americans (at least relatively young, as Martin looks about 35) living in the shadow of potential war and possibly being drafted. Michael is a successful Broadway producer and is not only uninterested in joining the war effort, but is actively searching for avenues to avoid it. This is another controversial aspect of the movie; audiences were not quite ready to see a cowardly American portrayed sympathetically on the screen, especially on the heels of the Korean conflict of the 1950s. Martin shows great courage in straightforwardly portraying a man who was ready to do anything to avoid being taken into the great patriotic enterprise and made no bones about it. On the other hand, Noah is perfectly willing to be drafted and Clift, in a role very similar to his performance in From Here to Eternity, gives Noah a stolid manner that contrasts nicely with Martin's exaggerated portrayal of the cynical Broadway star.
This is a movie of many parallels. We have the parallel stories of Diestl in the war as it continues in Europe, and the two Americans who are drafted and sent to basic training. The Germans have conquered France and now Diestl is a part of the occupying army. He believes that the Nazis are fighting for peace and to create a united Europe. Alternating with this is the story of Clift's character, a Jew who is additionally marked as an intellectual by his possession of James Joyce's book Ulysses, finding himself persecuted by his commanding officer and his henchmen. The discrimination against Noah is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but the implications are there. Ultimately, Noah must fight back in the same way that Corporal Prewitt did in Eternity: he boxes each man in the gang, taking merciless beatings. More parallels exist in the women these men are involved with as the war progresses and America prepares for its entry into the conflict. Rush, as Michael's girlfriend, Margaret, is the quintessential wise-cracking city gal and we see her in contrast to Hope Lange as Hope Plowman, Noah's girl. She is a country girl from Vermont who ends up taking her Jewish fiancé home for turkey dinner and testing the tolerance of her father.
Christian meets a pair of opposing women as he meets Simone during the occupation and she is attracted to him, despite her hatred of the invading Bosche. Later, on leave in Berlin, he meets Gretchen Hardenberg (Britt), the wife of his commanding officer (Schell) who first appears in the glitter of war time Berlin when the Nazis seem destined to dominate the European continent, if not the world. Later, Christian is to meet her again late in the war when Berlin did not glitter so much—and neither does she.
Brando performance is one of his finest, although occasionally eccentric, as he shows the evolution of his character from the shallow ski bum in the early scenes through succeeding levels of disillusionment with war and brutality until finally descending into the ultimate horror of the truth about his country's evil persecution and mass murder. It is difficult to separate his portrayal of a sympathetic man who becomes a willing, yet unwitting, accomplice to the Nazi horrors from the other German characters in their enthusiastic and knowing collaboration with destruction and murder. There is difficulty with accepting that on one hand his character is intelligent and a good soldier, yet completely unaware of what was really going on.
Montgomery Clift was a very popular performer in his era and specialized in earnest and sympathetic roles, using the combination of toughness and sensitivity pioneered by Brando. He was publicized as a Brando successor and his casting in this film with Marlon set trade papers abuzz. Amazingly, he and Brando do not have a single scene together. Later in his career, Brando would take a role in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (opposite Elizabeth Taylor) upon the death of the younger actor, who had struggled with drugs and alcohol following a horrific car accident.
Dean Martin attempted many times in his career to be taken seriously as an actor following his incredible popularity with his partner, Jerry Lewis, as a comedy team. His results were mixed and The Young Lions remains one of his most impressive turns, despite the fact that next to the two highly charged Method actors, he seems somewhat out of place. He does have some moments as his character struggles with the inner self-hatred that his cowardice has evoked in him.
The American women, Hope Lange and Barbara Rush, both had film careers that eventually headed into television: Rush most notably for an astonishing number of guest star appearances and Lange for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The two met up again on The New Dick Van Dyke Show in 1971. May Britt has made only a handful of films since The Young Lions; she gained much notoriety in the 1960s when she married Sammy Davis Jr. at a time when Frank Sinatra and Martin's Rat Pack was the most notorious group of entertainers in America.
Another controversial aspect of The Young Lions was the participation of director Edward Dmytryk. By the late 1940s he was considered one of Hollywood's rising young directing talents with a string of popular films to his credit: Murder, My Sweet (1944), Back to Bataan (1945) and Crossfire (1947), one of the first Hollywood pictures to decry anti-Semitism, for which he earned an Oscar® nomination. But his career was interrupted by the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a wide-ranging and at times ruthless investigation aimed at uncovering and eradicating communist influences in Hollywood. A Communist Party member briefly during World War II and a life-long political leftist, Dmytryk was one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten" who refused to cooperate with HUAC, and had their careers disrupted or ruined as a result. Dmytryk went into self-exile in England, where he directed several minor pictures. When he returned to the US to renew his passport, he was arrested and spent six months in jail. Upon his release, Dmytryk agreed to name names and was released him from the blacklist. Many in Hollywood never forgave him, and this incident affected the rest of his life.
The Young Lions attracted scant Academy Award® attention for such a major film, garnering only three technical nominations. These included Best Black-and-White Cinematography for Joseph MacDonald, Best Score for Hugo Friedhofer and Best Sound by Carl Faulkner. It is interesting that the screenplay did not receive a nomination in adapting Irwin Shaw's sprawling novel for the screen. Vast historical novels, especially war stories, rarely make for compelling human drama because without the thoughts and descriptions that the author provides, we are left with the clichés that they spout. Here we are treated to something better, and the compelling quality of the actors triumphant over the scattered vignettes that make up the story.
How does such a film play today in the world of Home Theater and war movie pyrotechnics? The fighting sequences that are not stock footage are very decently staged, involving mostly the Germans with one exception, and certainly do not stand very high on the podium of great battle action. The story, in all its parallels and with its sweep of time and place, is often in danger of losing focus as it leads to a climactic sequence that is more a whimper than a bang. Finally, The Young Lions stands as a curiosity, or even a novelty, among the films that make up the war genre because in its vast mosaic is a measure of intelligence and thoughtfulness that is usually lacking in war movies. It is this quality that makes it more about people who happen to be at war, rather than about a war that happens to have people fighting in it.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The Oscar®-nominated cinematography is transferred here with excellent quality. I caught this film recently on satellite and this version is infinitely better. Fox presents the film's original widescreen Cinemascope and we are treated to the best of director Dmytryk's compositional skills. The screen is full, even as we focus on the faces. I noticed very few flaws in the source and was imminently impressed by the absolutely watchable black & white with nice depth and separation of shades of gray. I have to admit to an occasional bias against non-color films but happily here this was a non-issue.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Excellent processing of the sound by the transfer team makes this a fine aural experience and gives this disc's sound a freshness that many films of that era lack. There is good placement across the stereo spectrum, nice attention paid to the musical score and the battle sequences boomed brightly in my speakers. The fact that this film was an Oscar® nominee for its sound seems to back up the idea that the original source is still crucial in the ultimate quality no matter how many digital rabbits can be pulled out of a hat. There is also a good quality French stereo track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring War Trailer, Guadalcanal Diary, Halls of Montezuma, Men of Honor, Tigerland, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Wing and a Prayer
Extras Review: It would seem that one must not look for extras on a disc that does not have the appellation: Special Edition. Here we get the original theatrical trailer (02m:47s) and a bunch of trailers for other films. Yawn.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsOne of Brando's few early films that is not a bonafide classic to be released on DVD, this is a treat as we see his Blonde Beast woo the gals and fight for Germany across the expanse of World War II until he is forced to face the horrors his leaders have wrought in establishing their "new order." Also, along for the ride as American GIs are Dean Martin and Montgomery Clift in a parallel story that is part Rat Pack and part From Here to Eternity. A bit too intellectual for a war movie and too clichéd to truly aspire to great drama, the film still has its qualities of interest. Recommended for Brando fans and fans of offbeat war films.
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