A Soldiers' Epic
On this date of World War II D-Day invasion remembrance, one can also recall that fighting forces who distinguish themselves in fierce in bloody conflict in theaters of war are made up of individuals with their own backgrounds, beliefs and consciences about the rightness of the cause they serve. Each soldier’s fleeting moment or hidebound streak of heroism may be front-and-center, halting or entirely random, and the best war movies, in addition to depicting the wasteful hellishness of combat, strike that perfect pitch of walking in a soldier’s boots while the fury of fighting machines erupt around them. Consider the gripping saga of The Young Lions (1958), adapted for the black-and-white Cinemascope screen from Irwin Shaw’s acclaimed novel by director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Edward Anhalt, and starring Marlon Brando (as a dutiful and skilled but ultimately disillusioned German officer), Montgomery Clift (as a Jewish American clerk whose response to his anti-Semitic treatment at the hands of his fellow soldiers could either break him or steel his resolve) and Dean Martin (as a show-biz dilettante whose callous self-interest is shaken by the toll the struggles and sacrifices of his fellow draftees). Across a broad seven-year canvas, and at a 13-year remove from the cessation of the war it depicts, the film asks powerful questions: Can one selflessly serve a morally abhorrent cause wrapped in the ugly guise of blind nationalism? Can one block out the hatred endured from others in order to rescue them under fire? Can a self-confessed coward who shirks responsibility perform a brave act? In performances that are challenging for them and daring to us, Brando, Clift and Martin make these complex men in uniform from differing social strata real and memorable, just as the movie they inhabit captures the costs of war from the homefront to the thick of battle action. In his Boots on the Ground essay, FilmSchoolRejects.com blogger Dustin Hicks assesses: “The Young Lions, from start to finish, is an outstanding movie. It does not shy away from the violence men visit upon one another for ideological reasons – and even worse, simply because they’ve decided to stop thinking and follow orders. There is redemption, realization and loss all set against the backdrop of one of the darkest chapters in modern civilization. There is a clear message in this film, repeated in one form or another throughout.War is cyclical, it rarely meets the intended aim of either side, and more often than not it only serves to separates us more from our own humanity.It is an exceptional war film, that steals the concept of glory from the act and leaves you with something more substantial – more true. I like that it does so without beating the viewer over the head, and without abandoning levity. A lot of the film is fun, and heartwarming; that it mixed this well with the heartbreak of the subject matter is a real testament to what a classic [it] really is.” Also starring Hope Lange, Barbara Rush, May Britt and Maximilian Schell, The Young Lions chronicles the valiant and the vile aspects of warriors on both sides of the last “good war” with astonishing power and clarity on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.