Dean's Dramatic Year
The year 1958 was a turning point for Dean Martin (1917-1995), born 99 years ago today. Severed from his comedic partner Jerry Lewis after 10 years as a dominant box-office team and enjoying some renown with his recording career (with the two substantial song hits That’s Amore and Memories Are Made of This), Martin saw his previously vigorous screen career sputter with his first non-Lewis outing, the romantic comedy Ten Thousand Bedrooms. His next three films, a trifecta that would set him up as a movie star in his own right, changed the tide dramatically, in the fullest sense of the word. The pivotal first film of the trio, for which he took a severe pay cut in order to work with the other talents involved, had the necessary gravity and prestige to pull him up by the bootstraps as an actor: The Young Lions (1958), an adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s acclaimed World War II-set novel, directed by Edward Dmytryk and also starring formidable actors Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Maximilian Schell. Martin played a Broadway star who strenuously tried to evade the draft and, when he reluctantly joins the Army, shatteringly learns firsthand the hard life of the average Joe fighting as a foot soldier in the brutal campaign of the European Theater. Besides driving home the waste of war, Shaw’s work also examined the issues of class and bigotry, with Martin the exemplar of American “aristocracy,” just as Brando portrayed that aspect on the German side. Yet Martin’s charmed character could also look out for the interests of his Jewish pal Clift, the object of harsh treatment as a fellow recruit and on the battlefield. The Cinemascope war epic made Hollywood take notice of Martin, and his next two films offered even greater opportunities to show his other colors, director Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running (1958) from James Jones’s revered book and maverick moviemaker Howard Hawks’ bravura Western classic Rio Bravo (1959). Martin’s respective co-stars Frank Sinatra and John Wayne would also figure in future movie projects that burnished his star status. The actor/crooner would continue experimenting with dramatic roles over the next few years in Career (1959), Ada (1961), Toys in the Attic (1963) and Airport (1970), even as he alternated with four Rat Pack capers, four Matt Helm spy adventures, more late-career Westerns and police actioners, as well as a reinvigorated recording career in which his henceforth signature song Everybody Loves Somebody would knock The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night off the #1 chart position. Martin’s multifaceted legacy is marked by several turning points on his resumé. The Young Lions is one of them, available on a stellar Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.