WW2 drama that follows the lives of three young men, one German and two Americans, during wartime.WW2 drama that follows the lives of three young men, one German and two Americans, during wartime.WW2 drama that follows the lives of three young men, one German and two Americans, during wartime.
Mongomery Clift was too old for his role as "young man" Pvt. Noah Ackerman. Clift looks old enough to be the same age as the actor who portrays the father of Ackerman's beloved Hope. Also, the near-repetition of his 'From Here to Eternity' pugilist part feels perverse, excessive, monotonously voyeuristic. Those circumstances aside, Clift's performance finely communicates Ackerman's plaintive, good-hearted tenderness.
Brando's effort is solid, though I'd like to have seen more character development: we know nothing of Christian Diestl's upbringing in Weimar/Nazi Germany except for his revelation that he was a shoemaker's son who ran out of money midway through medical school. More could have been made of the intellect of a young skier whose medical ambitions were, in parallel with the German people's interwar ambitions toward a place in the world befitting their view of themselves, thwarted until their vile demagogue rode the wave of such ambition to utter destruction.
Dean Martin's work is adequate, but not stellar; perhaps a result of his playing the would-be shirker. In some moments his slender dramatic gifts exceed their natural power, but in most of his screen-time he seems to be coasting on his Hollywood persona's legendary charm.
Maximillian Schell's work is first-rate, but it seems to have gotten him typecast in later films as the rabid, or otherwise intrinsically flawed, Nazi officer - which he only managed to again turn into solid effect in 'The Odessa File.' Solid actresses Hope Lange and Barbara Rush aren't given much decent scripting to work with. WWII veteran-writers, the unsurpassable James Jones included, had difficulty portraying women characters: often their female characters seem stilted, if not downright stereotypes. Thus I suspect that 'The Young Lion's' screenwriters hadn't much in the original novel from which to develop its women characters. This also applies to Diestl's girlfriend Francoise (in fact, the most credible female role here is that of Simone who portrays, briefly but heart-rendingly, a woman in dread for her about-to-desert boyfriend Brandt's fate). May Britt, as the opportunistic, adulterous Frau Hardenburg, is adequate; but for her corrupt role the scriptwriters faced no great challenge.
Most preventing my liking this film are its stagey sets and lighting. There's just one superb location scene: the Afrika Korps's dawn ambush of a British unit; the other location scenes - especially of Ackerman's and Whittaker's infantry company - seem much too bucolic in the midst of history's most violent war. The other complaint I have, about this and other post-mid-50's WWII films, is that the women's hairstyles, makeup, and clothing are not of the 1940's, but of the later vogue in which such films were shot: this disjoints the viewer from belief in the period which such films attempt to portray.
'The Young Lions' script leaves much to be desired. It might have been more thoroughly fleshed out, from Irwin Shaw's novel, than it turned out to be. Its best-written scene is of Hope's father taking Noah Ackerman for a contemplative walk round the square of Hope's Vermont hometown, as it flourishes the only writing impressive in economy and power.
One glaring continuity gaffe, in the scene in which Diestl and Brandt meet Simone and Francoise: it's night, yet when Diestl leaves the studio-shot sidewalk table to pursue Francoise to the nearby riverbank, the cut shifts to a location shot made plainly at midday. Quite a few other interior-to-exterior, and vice-versa, scene shifts also detract from the 'The Young Lions' visual flow and credibility. One instance in which it succeeds is actually one in which many other WWII films suffer egregiously: 'The Young Lions' manages to seamlessly weave bits of actual WWII documentary/file footage into its narrative (in one moment, however, this doesn't work: the too-long sequence depicting the El Alamein offensive, which uses documentary clips but which also reuses Hollywood footage from, I think, 'The Desert Rats' or 'The Desert Fox'). This sequence is followed by the almost comical - yet intended to be tragical - motorcycle retreat of Diestl and Hardenburg, which is poorly done in rear-screen projection with the pair astride a bucking, but plainly otherwise stationary, motorcycle (which, by the way, is an American, not a German, bike).
One blooper I caught (but then I'm familiar with such details): after Diestl's African tour he meets Brandt in France, and in the exterior shot Diestl's wearing the old-style Wehrmacht officers cap sans silver chin cords, but when the duo steps into a building to continue conversing, in the interior shot Diestl's cap has magically sprouted the later cap style's chin cords.
An element of unreality in 'The Young Lions' is the remarkable survival rate of Ackerman's infantry squad mates - which doesn't reflect the grievous casualties suffered by U.S. units that fought from D-Day to the final campaign that ended in Germany. (Indeed, ETO commanders howled for replacements for their units' casualties; even the procrustean Patton had reluctantly to accept Negro units as replacements for his decimated formations - though to his credit Patton acknowledged the fitness and combat excellence of those Negro units, about one of which Kareem Abdul Jabbar has well-written a fitting history-cum-tribute).
Though some detail moments of 'The Young Lions' give the story enough meat for the audience to chew and digest satisfyingly, its scopic plot's enormous, world-ranging bones could not have been given enough sinew and muscle to have yielded thoroughgoing excellence, else the film would have run six or more hours. This prompts the expectation that a thoroughly-fleshed mini-series (are you listening HBO?) deserves to be adapted - much more closely and roundly than this 1958 film could have been - from Shaw's novel. In sum the major flaw of 'The Young Lions' is, despite fine acting efforts made on necessarily scant script matter, its failure to have met its ambition of capturing the whole meat of Shaw's story.
- Sep 7, 2005