(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Edward Anhalt/Irwin Shaw; cinematographer: Joe MacDonald; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Hugo W. Friedhofer; cast: Marlon Brando (Christian Diestl), Montgomery Clift (Noah Ackerman), Dean Martin (Michael Whiteacre), Hope Lange (Hope Plowman), Barbara Rush (Margaret Freemantle), May Britt (Gretchen Hardenberg), Maximilian Schell (Capt. Hardenberg), Lee Van Cleef (Sgt. Rickett), Arthur Franz (Captain Green), Richard Gardner (Private Cowley), Liliane Montevecchi (Francoise), Vaughan Taylor (Mr. Plowman), Parley Baer (Lt. Brandt), Dora Doll (Simone), Harvey Stephens (Gen. Rockland); Runtime: 167; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Al Lichtman; 20th Century Fox; 1958)

“All three stars shine and give this film a luster despite periodic breakdowns in the way the episodic story was told.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Dmytryk does an overall good job in adapting Irwin Shaw’s acclaimed lengthy bestseller about WW11 to the screen, though the storytelling is uneven. Edward Anhalt provides the screenplay. It’s filmed in black-and-white ‘Scope. The thoughtful adventure film weaves together three stories around its illustrious male stars Marlon Brando, Dean Martin and Montgomery Clift.

German ski instructor Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando) is hopeful that Hitler will bring new prosperity to Germany and when war breaks out the idealist joins as a lieutenant. Dissatisfied with police duty in Paris, he requests to be transferred and is assigned to the front in North Africa. The film follows the stories of wise guy Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and nice guy Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) when they befriend each other during their draft board physical and are stationed together when drafted. Michael is a Broadway crooner with connections, but those connections weren’t able to get him out of the army. But they do get him out of the war zone, as he is stationed in London with a unit of entertainers. The playboy is dating socialite Margaret Freemantle (Barbara Rush) for a long time, who coincidentally in 1938 dated Christian in the Bavarian Alps when she went on a skiing vacation. But she was repulsed by his Nazi beliefs and deserted him on New Year’s Eve to return to Michael. Just prior to the U.S. entry into the war, she enlisted to do clerical work in the army. Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) is Jewish and works as a lowly department store clerk, who attends a party Michael throws and gets fixed up with a sweet gentile Vermont girl named Hope Plowman (Hope Lange). She falls in love with him and introduces her gentle fiancé to her provincial father, who doesn’t like Jews because he never met one. But after a chat with Noah, approves of the marriage. Once in the service the boot-camp commanding officer and some of the tough guys in his company try to bully Noah, as their anti-Semitism shows. But Noah gains the respect of the enlisted men by fighting back in a series of fist fights, even though he’s much smaller.

The film tells in great detail how each of these soldiers comes to view the war, as it makes its appeal as an anti-war film. Brando turns into a conflicted Nazi, who has become disillusioned by the war but can’t escape from it. Martin is riddled with guilt that Clift is fighting and he’s got a soft gig, as he’s shamed into volunteering by Margaret. By pulling strings, Martin rejoins his old outfit in the front. Martin finds that Clift has matured and right in front of his eyes becomes a brave warrior, heroically rescuing the same bully he fought with back in the States. By the film’s end the three main parties cross paths outside a concentration camp towards the close of the war.

Clift is quoted as being upset that Brando played his part into a “fuckin’ Nazi pacifist,” as he derided the Method actor’s narcissistic aims. In this film, Clift intensely plays his role as the anguished Jewish outsider filled with a mixture of pathos and optimism. Brando might have the showy German accent but Clift’s sensitive performance brings out greater depth than Brando did in his character. The two shared no scenes together, so we can only judge them separately. Martin takes on his first serious role after breaking up with comedian partner Jerry Lewis, where he’s the likable roguish coward. All three stars shine and give this film a luster despite periodic breakdowns in the way the episodic story was told. Besides being overlong, there were too many scenes where the action seemed forced, as if only used to make a plot point. It should also be noted that Swedish actress May Britt, Swiss actor Maximilian Schell, French actress Dora Doll and Italian actress Liliane Montevecchi all made their U.S. film debuts with The Young Lions.