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WAR NOIR IMPRESSION OF MARLON BRANDO IN 'THE YOUNG LIONS'

Brando and Britt in The Young Lions from 1958
Director Edward Dmytryk's War Noir, THE YOUNG LIONS, based on a novel by Irwin Shaw, stars Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin as two polar opposite American soldiers, Jewish everyman Noah Ackerman and entertainer Michael Whitacre.

One is brooding and bullied, the other aloof, smooth, reluctant and cool... Take a guess who's who. And on the flip-side of the coin are two Germans: One isn't bullied at all but very brooding, charming, handsome, and deadly when he has to be while the other is a full-blown Nazi, bringing to the table all that that name brings...

Marlon Brando and Maximilian Schell as German officers Lt. Christian Diestl and Capt. Hardenberg, contrary in that one fights because he has to while the other is having a glorious time in battle. Brando, as usual, is great to watch as he, using a brilliant, unique form of Broken English playing a German, wields his usual non-deliberate chops that don't seem like a performance, and unlike his roles in early Kazan features, Schell is pretty much caught up with his partner's style, almost equal in non-performance, only one has a much better role to play... Meanwhile, in America, the best scenes occur as Clift and Martin survive boot camp, but not under a screaming drill Sarge like in most war flicks.

Movie Score: ****
It's the fellow officers who make Clift's Jewish Ackerman's life a living hell, and one of them is Lee Van Cleef, whose hawklike eyes would hypnotize the next decade's Sergio Leone Italian "Spaghetti Westerns". And while Clift fights to be able to eventually... fight, Dean Martin's Whitacre, about to get his wish to return to New York as an entertainer, not a soldier, lets his weak, skinny yet completely fearless friend take care of things himself...

Marlon Brando in The Young Lions
As "Monty" does in wonderful scenes that, concerning both men, literally stride hand-in-hand with girlfriends that don't distract from the masculine mainline...

And while Hope Lange, pretty and vulnerable, belonging to Clift but with a reluctant, old-fashioned father (a miscast Vaughn Taylor straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting), does an okay job as the girl next door (only much prettier), it's May Britt who steals the show as the German femme fatale of sorts, flirting with Brando's Diestl even though she's his vicious Captain's girl. Brando and Britt's scenes, based only on lust, are far more entertaining and realistic than Monty and Hope's far too rushed courtship to marriage.

Marlon Brando
Last but not least, Barbara Rush, the main connection to German and America, having been almost romanced by Brando before the war and the singer girlfriend of Martin, is the most important actress aboard this three man's show.

The always-intense Schell hardly plays the villainous role with delicious savor meant to be abhorred to a post-war audience... Instead, he's simply an extremely severe man with a rigid cause as THE YOUNG LIONS follows these four (but eventually, and rather quickly, only three) men like WAR AND PEACE...

Marlon Brando
Where scenes take place in their own idyllic city and suburban America to a ghostly, occupied France to the aforementioned boot camp to bloody battles in Africa, each filmed like a meticulous chess match, and a particularly drawn-out death sequence left an impression on one of the greatest actors of the 1970's, big and cool "tough black dude" Yaphet Kotto, who, when asked about working with musician urned actor Isaac Hayes in the blaxploitation classic TRUCK TURNER, wrote:

Brando as German
"We got along great. He watched me do the death scene and that’s all he talked about afterwards: 'Man, you all see the way my man Yaphet did his death scene!' I can’t take too much credit for that scene, I had seen it in THE YOUNG LIONS with MARLON BRANDO and that gave me a skeleton to work from." Which is no surprise, for Brando was, and still is, the "skeleton" hanging within a timeless actor (and actress) workshop classroom; and if you take note at some of the expressions on the leading men today, his immortal impression remains: And in LIONS it's no surprise he steals the show, a more realistic turn than Clift, who, despite a great performance, looks a bit too old for the role of an awkward virgin...

The Young Lions Poster Cinemascope
And his "Hope full" love scenes with Lange, though genuinely heartfelt, feel a bit dated and staged unlike Brando's hopeless conversation with a tough, bitter (with damn good reason!) French Girl. Her "hath no fury" practically equals Brando's curtain-closing, hellish death scene that does, in fact, take its time, sad and slow, a downhill climb that's difficult to watch...

And being a German who we're feeling for is proof of the Noir template: a sympathetic man whose heart is in the wrong place yet still trying to do his best in his own way, and, judging by several askew glances by the mere mention of the name, he's not a fan of Adolf Hitler...

Marlon's character, like Dean Martin's in New York but for only for three months of the year, was basically that of a lazy Playboy. War gets in the way of pretty much everything! But even the worst wars end while the impression of an actor is timeless. "I went in and sat down and saw ON THE WATERFRONT," Yaphet Kotto stated. "I was so blown away after that day – it was Brando’s performance that made me leave the streets to become an actor!"
Marlon Brando in THE YOUNG LIONS
Maximilian Schell and Marlon Brando posing for a shot within a shot within THE YOUNG LIONS Year: 1958
German Marlon Brando takes aim against the French Resistance in THE YOUNG LIONS
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