Thursday, June 14, 2012

Film Review: The Young Lions (1958)

Dean with two of the top dogs in the
 business. Photo Courtesy of
IMDb: The destiny of three soldiers during World War II. The German officer Christian Diestl approves less and less of the war. Jewish-American Noah Ackerman deals with anti-Semitism at home and in the army while entertainer Michael Whiteacre transforms from playboy to hero.

     When Martin and Lewis split up after ten successful years of partnership, many were distressed about the break-up, though not too many--if any at all--were worried about the Lewis half, but everyone worried about the Martin half. They just didn't think he was going to make it, after all Jerry was the funny one; he had all the talent.
     Dean's first film after the break-up, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, seemed to spell out the end of his career when it failed to capture the attention of both the audience and the critics. It's a weak film with an overused and worn premise, that gives one the feeling that Jerry Lewis is going to pop out of nowhere, and exclaim in that "Idiot" voice of his, "Sorry, I'm late!" And the fact that the film shows off no one's talent, it's quite obvious as to why the picture failed. (I nonetheless enjoyed it because, well, hello, it's Dean; and if you truly love someone, anyone, you love everything they did--even the duds.)
     Through the grace of God, Dean got a call one day as he was laying in his bed from his manager, Mort Viner, who asked: "Would you mind working with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift?" Dean's classic reply? "Are you drunk? Would I mind? I'd love it!" His manager went onto inform him that he'd have to take a big cut whereas he got $250,000 for Ten Thousand Bedrooms, he'd only get $20,000 for a film called the Young Lions. Dean assured his manager that he'd do it for nothing.
     Anyone that has seen the film would tell you, as Dean himself did, it was well worth it. The role which had at first been promised to Tony Randall, showed and proved to everybody that Dean could act. It cemented his stature as an actor--and also that he could, and would, make it without Jerry Lewis.
Michael Whiteacre talking about two of his most favoritest of things:
booze and broads.
Photo Courtesy of
     Even before he landed the role as carefree entertainer, Michael Whiteacre, Dean still had to jump over one last hurdle; the producer of The Young Lions didn't want him; after all, he had failed to hold up a picture of his own, who's to say that it wouldn't happen again? I guess, to be objective about the whole thing, it's understandable as to why they didn't want him. Luckily, Dean had two people on his side that I'm sure surprised everybody, including Dean: Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. Amazingly, they refused to begin the film without him, and not wanting to hold up production, the head honchos finally relented, and Dean was officially a part of the cast of The Young Lions which was based off the novel of the same name by Irwin Shaw.
Dean and Marlon between scenes of The Young Lions.
Photo Courtesy of
     That wasn't the only thing that they did for Dean either. Until this point, Dean had never done anything heavy; nothing that had really required him to do anything more than parrot something back that someone (namely Jerry Lewis) had said. And so, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift helped Dean. I don't know exactly what they taught him, but if anything I don't think they taught him so much as how to act because Dean, deep down already knew how to do that; no, I think they taught him how to react. Dean had impeccable comedic timing, and I think they just honed that into a different sort of timing that Dean would use for the rest of his career. And so with Dean's talent (the largest part of it) and Marlon's and Montgomery's kindness and consideration, Dean went on to knock the socks of all his doubters, and show them all that he really could act.
On and off-screen, Dean and Montgomery become
good friends.
Photo Courtesy of
         In Michael Whiteacre, Dean found one of his most complex roles. Mike, to be blunt, is a coward. He knows it and everyone else does, too. His reason for being a coward is a plain one. It is an honest one. He doesn't want to get shot, and he doesn't want to die. No one wants to get shot or die, so can he really be blamed for being a coward? I don't think so, and I'm not saying that just because it's Dean. It takes a very courageous man (or woman) to go fight in any war in any type of position, and, in my book, it takes a courageous man (or woman) to admit that he doesn't want to get shot and that he's a "coward". For those that believe that you can't be brave while also being a coward, Michael does go onto redeem himself in not only everybody else's eyes, but his own, too.
The expression on Michael's face while he watches Noah
get the tar beat out of him.
Photo Courtesy of
     When anyone ever asks me what film they should watch if they are just being introduced to Dean, this film is ALWAYS on my list. The film is just that good, and Dean is just that amazing in it. Though he's not really known for his dramatic works, it should be noted that he was absolutely magnificent in them. If The Young Lions should be remembered for anything, it should be remembered for Dean's performance (not that Montgomery and Marlon weren't excellent in it because--uh, well, hello--they were). When I got this film, I expected him to be good; after all, I had read a lot of reviews on the film that said he was, but I didn't expect him to be as good in it as he really was.
Simply amazing.
Photo Courtesy of
     Though I recommend this film to all, I will warn you that it does get slightly slow and maybe a tad boring in a few spots, but believe me, it doesn't stay that way. It's a terrific film to watch even if you're not a fan of Dean's, Montgomery's, or Marlon's. I give this picture a 3.5/4 stars.

(As a side note, I would like to point out if this film compels you to read the massive novel of the same name by Irwin Shaw, there are key differences between the two medias. I read the book before I watched the film, and the differences are noticeable, though a majority of them are minor; except two major ones, but I'm not going to tell them to you because I wouldn't want to ruin the picture for you, or the book. In the end, you'll probably hate one and love the other.)

1 comment:

azw596 said...

Thanks so much for your excellent review which led me to this excellent film. Your informative background notes made me feel like an "insider",and your description of Dean's role, and his handling of it, is so very accurate.
At 689 pages I think I'll pass on the novel, at least for now, though your mention of how it differs in two major points from the film, does make it sound quite enticing!
Many thanks!