Tag Archives: Nazism

The Young Lions (1958)

The Young Lions was supposed to be a turning point in the career of three men: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin. It turned out, however, that the only person it really helped was Dean Martin, who successfully made the transition from comedy to dramatic actor.

The story is taken from the novel by Irwin Shaw, though it feels a bit like two separate stories put into one film. One story follows Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando with blonde hair), a ski instructor and shoemaker who becomes a lieutenant in the German army during WWII. Initially, he is optimistic about Hitler, thinking he will make Germany strong and prosperous. But as he witnesses the horrors of war and the crimes of the army, he becomes increasingly troubled and disoriented, unsure of what his duty is.

Meanwhile, America is preparing for war. Both entertainer Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and department store clerk Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) are drafted into the military. This part of the story initially feels like From Here to Eternity, with the Jewish Ackerman encountering antisemitism in his barracks and having to fight to earn acceptance. Eventually, however, both men end up in France and Germany, pushing back the German army, which is disintegrating.

The film culminates with the discovery – both by Diestl, who is wandering behind enemy lines, and Whiteacre and Ackerman – of a concentration camp, filled with starving people, and their attempts to grasp the full horror of it.

What is interesting about the film is that it does not deal with ideologies per se: Nazism, freedom. It comes off more like three men – who aren’t really that different from each other in terms of basic principles – who are not ideologically motivated. Mostly, what we hear from the German officers is the imperative of obeying orders, with a few who have qualms. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine someone like Whiteacre or Ackerman fighting for the Germans (apart from the fact that Ackerman is Jewish). These are not guys fighting for any other reason than because they have been drafted and who’s loyalty is to their comrades.

Clift and Martin

In truth, Diestl comes off more like a pacifist than a man who specifically takes issue with the Nazi party line. He reacts negatively to the German occupation in Paris (I wonder what he would have made of Poland – France was mild in comparison) and seems more appalled by the cruelties of war than the specific crimes of Nazism.

All three men – Brando, Clift, and Martin – had high hopes for the film, but it doesn’t quite live up to all it could be. It feels, at times, like the story lacks cohesion or direction. Is a bit lethargic. But the actors themselves do well and were clearly giving it their all. Brando was seeking to revive his sagging box office appeal (which didn’t quite work) and probably has the most interesting role in the film.

The Young Lions was the first film Montgomery Clift made after having reconstructive surgery on his face after a terrible car accident. He was hoping also to make a comeback and perhaps even win an Academy Award, but sadly the reaction of most audiences was shock at his changed appearance and apparent ill health (he looks like someone who more likely would have been turned down by the draft board).

Dean Martin, however, was far more successful in achieving his goals. He had just broken up his partnership with Jerry Lewis and wanted to show that he was a viable dramatic actor. The very next year he would make Rio Bravo and receive much acclaim for his performance.

In The Young Lions, his more natural and laid back approach to acting is actually a very nice contrast to the method approach of Brando and Clift (who do not share a scene in the film, adding to the sense that we are watching two separate stories). Martin’s Whiteacre is a slightly spoiled singer and performer who thinks he is a coward. He spends part of the film hating himself for trying to get out of service, but eventually he conquers his fears in a sense of shared camaraderie.

He was actually fortunate to get the role. It was originally intended for Tony Randall, until it was decided that Randall was not suited for the part. Dean Martin, however, seems perfect.

This is my second contribution to the “Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon,” hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Be sure to read all the rest of the posts from days 1, 2, and 3 of the Blogathon!


Posted by on June 7, 2017 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Political Incorrectness, The Iliad, Gone With the Wind, Roger Ebert, and Propaganda

“Remember that when GWTW [Gone With the Wind] was made, segregation was still the law in the South and the reality in the North. The Klu Klux Klan was written out of one scene for fear of giving offense to elected officials who belonged to it. The movie comes from a world with values and assumptions fundamentally different from our own – and yet, of course, so does all great classic fiction, including Homer and Shakespeare. A politically correct GWTW would not be worth making, and might largely be a lie.”

This quote is from a review on Gone With the Wind by Roger Ebert, a film critic and reviewer. It caught my attention because I had just written a short post about my impressions of The Iliad (see my post, here) and I talked about how all I could really think about was what a rotten deal the women were getting. Of course, as Roger Ebert points out, The Iliad is a work of its time and if it were written today, then the affect of the story would probably be highly diluted, because it’s not a story about women. It’s about the Greek heroes who lay siege to Troy.

Literature and movies are windows into the time of their creation, of that time’s values. When we correct racism, sexism, intolerance, and inaccuracies, we are suddenly reflecting our own values backwards into the past and revealing only ourselves. Also, if we were to assume that only something that is perfectly politically correct is worthy of attention, then chances are everything we create today will be forgotten by our descendants.

But I’ve always wondered where the line is between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Not many consider a Nazis propaganda film an acceptable form of entertainment, even if it could be considered well done. I don’t know anything about Nazi art, accept that it is generally disparaged; but art that is propaganda is not automatically bad art. The Aeneid, written by Virgil, is pretty non-subtle propaganda for Caesar Augustus, building him up as a great ruler whose coming was prophesied at the very founding of Rome.

When Gone With the Wind was being made, many African-Americans protested the adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s book into a movie because of the racism (there is even more in the book than in the movie). The Birth of a Nation (1915) is still considered one of the finest American films, and it struck me as more racist than Gone With the Wind. Sergei Eisenstein, a much admired, cutting-edge Russian director in the Soviet Union, used his films to further his vision of communism (ironically, and sadly, he had many run-ins with authority for not professing the correct form of communism). The ideology of communism has the unique feature of being less offensive than Nazism, but, in practice, equally destructive of human life.

I guess I don’t know where the line is. I enjoy the movie Gone With the Wind more than I enjoy The Iliad, so I am more willing to accept that it is a productive of its times. And I think, regarding that line, that it is important to differentiate between what is merely a product of its times and what is overt propaganda –  and then we have to evaluate how greatly we like or dislike the view being propagated. Caesar Augustus apologia does not seem quite as pernicious as Aryan racism.

It is important, however, never to get so used to something, whether it is political incorrectness or propaganda, that you cease to notice or evaluate it.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Movies


Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: