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The Young Lions

Often burgeoning stars are called "the next so-and-so" — that is, until they so become their own personas that they ultimately eclipse comparisons. When Marlon Brando first hit the big screen, for many he was "the next Montgomery Clift," as both were intense and exciting Broadway-trained actors who emitted a strongly felt but fey sort of sexuality, conveyed by their expressive and somewhat feminine faces. One wishes then that the powerhouse combination of these two screen idols in one film would make for powerful and involving cinema, but The Young Lions (1958) suffers — under the direction of Edward Dmytryk — from Oscar Syndrome, where interesting stories are made too long and too superficial in the quest for the golden statuette. Brando plays Christian Diestl, an optimistic Austrian ski instructor who's drawn into the Nazi gestalt, initially hoping to make the world a better place, but growing more and more disenchanted at the hands of his intransigent C.O. (Maximillian Schell). In America, Noah Ackerman (Clift) and Broadway star Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) are drafted and become quick friends; Michael introduces Noah to Hope (Hope Lange), whom he immediately falls for, though his being Jewish is hard for her family to accept. Michael wants out of the Army because he's narcissistic and cowardly, while Noah struggles with prejudice in the military. What is supposed to make The Young Lions Oscar-worthy is that the Nazi character is played sympathetically, not entirely sure of what to make of the war he's entered into. But whatever moral dilemmas Christian suffers are bound to Brando's performance, as he talks about his indecisiveness and then pouts. It's obvious that Brando was one of the great American actors, and simply because he is so quintessentially American; saddling him with a silly German accent only makes him less interesting. Dmytryk's uninspired directing levels the playing field so much that Dean Martin, with a throwaway part, comes off about as well as Clift and Brando — though he does get one bad scene all to himself. As for Clift, this was his "comeback" film: In 1956, while shooting The Raintree County, a car accident destroyed his face, leaving him nervous about returning to the big screen. It's easy to see why, as his once-beautiful mug now looks a little trollish, and the awkwardness that once was sexy and mysterious now seems a little creepy. Complaints noted, The Young Lions is still a interesting movie — Brando was in his prime, the cast is solid, and the European locations are eye-catching. And though Dmytryk never adapted particularly well to widescreen composition, the black-and-white picture is shot in Cinemascope. Had The Young Lions been a little tighter and with sharper director, it might have been a masterpiece. Fox's DVD presents the film in a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), with an overly pronounced stereo mix. Trailers, keep-case.

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