ⓘ The Young Lions (film)


ⓘ The Young Lions (film)

The Young Lions is a 1958 American World War II drama film directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin. It was made in black-and-white and CinemaScope by 20th Century Fox. The film is based upon the 1948 novel of the same name by Irwin Shaw.


1. Plot

German ski instructor Christian Diestl is hopeful that Adolf Hitler will bring new prosperity and social mobility to Germany, so when war breaks out he joins the army, becoming a lieutenant. Dissatisfied with police duty in Paris, he requests to be transferred and is assigned to the North African campaign front. While there, he sees what the war has done to his captain and the captains wife, and he is sickened by their behavior.

Michael Whiteacre and Noah Ackerman befriend each other during their U.S. Army draft physical examination. Michael is in show business and romantically involved with American socialite Margaret Freemantle, who dated ski instructor Christian in 1938 while both were in the Bavarian Alps, where she spent her skiing vacation. Upset by his convictions, she left him on New Years Eve and returned to Michael.

Noah, who is Jewish and employed as a junior department store clerk, attends a party that Michael throws, where he meets Hope Plowman. She falls in love with him, and introduces him to her father, who is unprepared for the idea of having a Jewish son-in-law - he has never known a Jew. After talking with Noah, the father approves of him.

Noah and Michael enter the Army on the same day, and attend basic training together. Their commanding officer and some of the men in their boot camp platoon bully Noah and demonstrate antagonism toward him. Noah gains their respect by standing up to them, even though hes much smaller and is badly hurt in fistfights with some of them. Military authorities, however, discover Noahs put-upon situation and court-martial the officer.

Michael is posted overseas to London.

Christian is conflicted, hating what the war has done to his fellow Germans, but unable to escape from his role in the conflict. He despises what his fellow soldiers have done in the name of the Fatherland, but is determined to fulfill his duty to the end. While visiting his seriously wounded captain in a hospital, he is duped into bringing him a bayonet. He later learns from the captains wife that he committed suicide with it.

Thanks to his fame, Michael spends most of the war in a safe job in London, nowhere near the fighting. He finally decides to volunteer for combat after Margaret shames him into action. By pulling strings, he rejoins his old outfit at the front, in Germany, in the final days of the war. He reunites with Noah there.

Noah risks his own life during combat by swimming across a canal to save a fellow soldier. The soldier is one of the men who abused him in boot camp. Christian discovers the reality of the Third Reich when he stumbles upon a concentration camp and hears the commander talk about the mass exterminations. Shortly afterwards, the camp is liberated by American forces, which include Michael and Noah. The mayor of a nearby town offers working parties of his constituents to "clean up" the camp before American reporters and photographers arrive. He is roughly rebuffed by Captain Green after an imprisoned rabbi asks Green for permission to hold a religious service and the mayor protests.

Seeing how Noah is affected by the camp, Green instructs him to take a walk and sends Michael with him. Nearby, dazed and tired, Christian screams in rage, breaking apart his machine-pistol on a tree-stump. The noise draws the attention of Michael and Noah, and seeing the German, Michael shoots Christian. They silently watch him die, then quietly walk back to the camp.

After the war, a discharged Noah emerges from a subway station. Hope is at a window in their apartment and notices him coming, and lifts up their baby daughter for him to finally see, and he ascends the stairs quickly to embrace his family.


2. Production

The film became a box office success and was the key to Martins comeback in the wake of his split with partner Jerry Lewis. Tony Randall originally had Martins role, but was replaced after talent agency MCA suggested to director Dmytryk to replace Randall. Clift at first was opposed to Martin, but changed his mind after seeing Randall in Oh, Men! Oh, Women!. Martin, after the failure of his previous movie, accepted $20.000 to star, which was less than he made in a single week of nightclub appearances at the time. The change provoked a mild controversy with rumors circulating that MCA, which represented Brando, Clift, and Martin, had bullied Twentieth-Century Fox, threatening to withhold Brando and Clift. Martin ended up receiving splendid reviews and launched a very successful solo career as an actor.

This was the only film aside from home movies that Brando and Clift made together. However, they dont share any scenes together aside from Martin and Clift standing over the body of Brandos dead character. The picture was produced by Al Lichtman and was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film. It was also nominated in 1959 for three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Carlton W. Faulkner, and Best Music.


3. Release

Critical reception

The Young Lions was well received by film critics. Film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 83% of critics gave the film a positive review, with an rating average of 7.6/10. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, most impressed by Brandos performance, gave the film a favorable review, and also praised the film adaptation by Dmytryk. Variety also gave a positive review, and noted: The Young Lions is a canvas of the Second World War of scope and stature. Its a kingsized credit to all concerned, from Edward Anhalts skillful adaptation of Irwin Shaws novel to Edward Dmytryks realistic direction, and the highly competent portrayals of virtually everyone in the cast".

Box office

The film was a box office success, and took in $4.480.000 in North American rentals.