Movie Review: The Young Lions (1958)
“Irwin Shaw’s monumental best-seller”
The Young Lions (1958)
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Cast: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin
Synopsis: The story of three soldiers during WWII.
Adapted from an Irwin Shaw novel, The Young Lions follows the lives of three men from the beginning of WWII to its final days. Marlon Brando (Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Godfather) plays a modest German villager who finds that he makes quite an effective soldier even as his innate humanism causes him to continually question the cause for which he is fighting; Montgomery Clift (The Heiress) is an American Jew willing to fight for a country that is still rife with anti-Semitism, and Dean Martin (The Sons of Katie Elder, Marriage on the Rocks) is a showman whose reluctance to join up is due more to a trace of cowardice than any moral conflicts.
For the most part, it’s like watching two films: although Clift and Martin share plenty of screen time, the three stars only share one fleeting scene together. Sometimes, this can work if the separate strands contain some mirroring, but in this case there are few comparisons between the German and American stories to be made, leaving the film with a disjointed feel that refuses to go away.
I’m not sure whether Brando’s performance is good or not. His accent definitely sounds German, but occasionally seems to tip over into parody. I suppose you’d need to be a German to know for sure. Anyway, his performance is good enough. Martin, although making his dramatic debut, is still just Dean Martin in a uniform. They even manage to squeeze in a couple of numbers for him. His character isn’t very likable for much of the film – especially towards his girlfriend (who shares a few scenes with Brando’s character early in the film). It’s possible his guilt causes him to push her away, but knowing that doesn’t really help us like him. Clift’s performance is hesitant, low key. It’s supposed to hint at hidden depths. He takes on four of his unit’s biggest men after they claim to have stolen his twenty dollars, receiving a sound beating for each of the first three fights before overcoming his final tormentor. It’s a pretty poor piece of storytelling, if you ask me, but I suppose it serves its purpose. Maximilian Schell (St. Ives, Little Odessa) is also in the film, and provides the most memorable performance as a proud German officer whose wife cheats on him with Brando, and who ends up disfigured by a bomb that leaves Brando unmarked. And you can read into that what you will…
(Reviewed 9th December 2011)