(director: Fred Zinnemann; screenwriter: Carl Foreman; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Harry Gerstad; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Marlon Brando (Ken Wilozek), Teresa Wright (Ellen Wilozek), Everett Sloane (Dr. Brock), Jack Webb (Norm), Richard Erdman (Leo), Virginia Farmer (Nurse Robbins), Arthur Jurado (Angel), Jack Webb (Norm), DeForest Kelley (Physician); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kramer; United Artists; 1950)
“Brando’s first movie is a syrupy soap opera-like Stanley Kramer produced social conscience message movie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Brando’s first movie is a syrupy soap opera-like Stanley Kramer produced social conscience message movie. The stage actor and future great film star portrays Lt. Bud Wilozek, an embittered G.I. paraplegic in a wheelchair from his war wounds, who suffers from shame and is filled with self-loathing as he tries to deal with his devoted fiancée, Ellen (Teresa Wright), and her love for him as she visits in a hospital paraplegic ward in his hometown (filmed at the Birmingham Veterans Hospital in Van Nuys, California). Brando overcomes some of the film’s mawkishness with his powerful ‘Method’ acting performance, but not enough to fully wipe away its mostly public awareness educational look and dubious dramatics that seemed hardly entertaining. The relevant and shocking film at the time because of its supposed attempt to tackle the subject of sexual impotence for America’s critically wounded, has become badly outdated and when viewed today is not daring at all. It’s written by Carl Foreman (“Champion”/”Home of the Brave”) and directed in a documentary style by Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon”/”A Man for All Seasons”/”From Here To Eternity”), who sympathetically digs into the mental trauma suffered by a ward full of World War II veterans paralyzed in action.
Bud has trouble in his readjustment, becoming depressed and breaking off his engagement to Ellen who still loves and wants to marry him. The competent and caring ward physician, Dr. Brock (Everett Sloane), helps Ellen understand her sweetheart’s problems and advises patience. In the exercise room, under Nurse Robbins’ care, Bud is forced to relate with the other patients at rehab. He encounters a caustic intellectual named Norm (Jack Webb), a happy-go-lucky cigar-smoking gambling man named Leo (Richard Erdman) and the hard-working, always hopeful and earnest Mexican-American Angel (Arthur Jurado, a real-life paraplegic). Eventually Bud consents to see Ellen again and when she pleads with him to marry her, he agrees to give it a whirl. On their wedding night, a shamed Bud can’t consummate the marriage in a biblical sense and in frustration returns to the hospital (the sexual angle is something the film timidly averts confronting head-on despite putting out feelers it’s a no holds-barred story). It dangles the dilemma Bud has of trying to make the marriage work and get over his anger at the world for his problems, as we are led to believe that the noble Ellen is the right person for him and by staying married he has the best chance of adjusting to his difficult physical and mental condition.
This film didn’t make Brando a star, that came with his next film A Streetcar Named Desire. But Brando served notice that he can act and was a rebel, as he openly showed a dislike to the press. The film received much critical acclaim but bombed at the box office.
REVIEWED ON 5/2/2007 GRADE: C+