Based on the 1948 novel by Irwin Shaw, Edward Dmytryk’s The Young Lions was forced to make several concessions to the censors before its release in 1958. Even so, the film was, and still is, a fairly effective story about ordinary men and their reluctance over joining the fight during World War II. The story centers on three men, one German, two American. Marlon Brando plays Christian Diestl, a young, idealistic German. A part-time ski instructor and shoemaker, he’s given the brush off by beautiful American tourist Margaret Freemantle (Barbara Rush), after expressing his casual appreciation for Hitler before the start of the war; once in the heat of battle, Christian finds himself disillusioned with what his bosses expect of him.
Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) befriend each other during their draft physicals in New York. Whiteacre, an entertainer about to make it real big, an admitted coward, does his best to dodge the draft, but finds himself called up anyway. In a strange coincidence, he is romantically involved with Margaret Freemantle, the socialite who abandoned Christian upon hearing of his admiration for Hitler. Ackerman, a Macy’s clerk, is so shy, it’s almost pitiful. Nonetheless, he quickly falls in love with Hope Plowman (Hope Lange), a woman he meets at a party thrown at Michael’s house. The feeling is mutual, and the two soon decide to marry. Hope introduces her fiancé to her father, who doesn’t like Jews though he has never known one. After chatting with Noah, he approves the marriage.
While the three men are very different, they all question what war has forced them to do. Brando’s Christian, a member of the German police, can bare to round up children, so he turns to his Captain’s attractive wife (May Britt) for help in getting transferred to the front. Naturally though, there’s even more horror to be found on the battlefield. Despite Christian’s growing disillusionment, he’s unable to give up, determined to fulfill his duty to the very end. Meanwhile, Martin and Clift’s characters form a unique friendship that helps them to get through a war they’re both reluctant to fight. At one point, the film gets a bit bogged down by Noah’s run-ins with fellow soldiers over their anti-Semitic remarks (which results in a slight confidence boost for Noah), but quickly rebounds by refocusing on each man’s larger concerns, and their desire to return home safely.
The Young Lions attempts to tackle a lot of issues—anti-Semitism, racism, disillusionment—and in many ways, barely scratches the surface. However, when you consider that this film, clearly anti-war—was released in 1958, this was brave stuff. In one of the final scenes, Michael and Noah are among American forces liberating a concentration camp. The dead are obvious and the survivors are emaciated; the mayor (John Banner) of a nearby town denies any knowledge of what had been going on. No matter how many times I see that scene, it shakes me to the core.
The performances by the three principles—Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, and Montgomery Clift—are uniformly excellent. While the three never really share any face-to face screen time (one scene does come very close), they are all given ample time to show what they can do. Already, a star, Brando exudes his characters growing conflict, and has some powerful scenes with his captain, Hardenberg (Maximilian Schell, in his first Hollywood role). This wsa Dean Martin’s first serious role after his breakup with comedy partner Jerry Lewis, and his easy, unforced style suits his character well. And Montgomery Clift? He always seemed to play the quiet guys really well.
Presented in its original theatrical Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Twilight Time’s 1080p transfer is superb. Extremely sharp throughout, the stunning grayscale serves to compliment the fine cinematography by cinematography by Joe MacDonald. Age related artifacts are a non-issue, and contrast has been thoughtfully applied.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix serves the film well. Decidedly front loaded, dialogue is crisp and clean, and effects are re stable. Hugo Friedhofer’s score sounds surprisingly full. We do get some action in the surround channels, but not a lot. No age related artifacts mar the experience.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary: Film historians Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman, and Julie Kirgo offer up all sorts of information about the film, the production, its legacy, the actors, and more. Their easy going style makes this a must-listen for fans of the film.
- Isolated Score Track: Hugo Friedhofer‘s score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo and sounds great.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:48)
- Six-Page Booklet: contains a selection of black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s thoughtful analysis of the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.