Lining Up Lions
When the film version of Irwin Shaw’s powerful bestseller The Young Lions (1958), about the turbulent lives and fateful intersection of one German and two American GIs in World War II, premiered 59 years ago this weekend, it won wide acclaim and would go on to reap a sizable box-office profit, thanks to the adaptation craft of director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Edward Anhalt and a powerhouse appeal of a gold-medal cast that included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin, Hope Lange, Barbara Rush and May Britt. That proved to be a vindication to Dmytryk, who in his entertaining 1978 memoir It’s a Hell of a Life, but Not a Bad Living dubbed it “one of the most trying jobs of my entire career.” One obstacle was the studio, which in Dmytryk’s appraisal of its “bureaucratic thinking,” was unenthusiastic about the prestigious undertaking’s potential. “The original budget was $2 million, based on a 64-day schedule. I was only slightly surprised to learn that in spite of the upgrading in our cast, the studio not only adhered to the original budget but wanted to cut the schedule down to 60 days….I pointed out that casting either Monty or Marlon automatically required doubling the schedule – having both in the film placed it beyond reckoning. In my opinion, the cost would go over $3 million, and the schedule would run about 120 days. The studio production manager was obstinate. I finally agreed to the 60-day figure for the record, but still insisted I’d double it in actuality. That bothered him not at all; he returned to his office in a happy frame of mind. He was on the record, and safe – I would be responsible for the overages which he knew would eventuate as well as I did.” (The finally tally would be slightly over $3 million and 125 days filming.) Dmytryk had to cope with actor injuries – Brando laid up for days after being scalded by a spilled teapot of hot water at a Paris restaurant, Parley Baer breaking his leg on location – and actor idiosyncrasies – Brando requiring multiple takes to work his way into character and Clift usually being perfect on the first take and less effective when having to repeat himself. One communication mishap was beneficial in casting the part of Brando’s soldier comrade: “Back in Paris, I turned to the local agents. One left me a brochure of a young actor named Carl Schell. He was a touch too-on-the-nose for a Nazi officer, and I set him aside. I awaited the arrival of some tests from Hollywood after my departure. None proved satisfactory. In desperation, I called Schell’s agent and asked if Schell were available. I was told he was not only free but he could be in Paris by midnight to meet me….Returning from a late dinner, after midnight, I found Schell and his agent waiting in front of the Raphael Hotel. I had just started to apologize when I realized that the young actor standing there bore little resemblance to Carl Schell. Quite naturally. It was his brother Maximilian. I had neglected to use a given name when I had inquired about Schell’s availability, and the agent had thought Max while I was thinking Carl….He was much more the physical type I was seeking. But there was a slight catach. When he said hello, he’d used up his whole bag of English. Out of desperation, I decided to take a chance. I had brought Walter Roberts, a former playwright and English professor, with me as a dialogue coach, and Max agreed to work with him for a couple of weeks before I made a final decision. About three weeks later, when we shot his first scene at Sacre Coeur on Montmarte, his English was so good that none of it had to be dubbed.” Wrapping up his chapter on The Young Lions, Dmytryk recounted: “But before the film was released I had one more surprise. Following procedure, we held a running for the New York brass. As the film ended, the executives broke into unrestrained applause. Everyone was crying, and the compliments flew thick and fast. ‘It is so beautiful, so perfect,’ said [Fox president] Spyros Skouras. Then, as an afterthought, ‘How long is it?’ ‘Three hours and 20 minutes,’ I told him. ‘You’ll have to cut out half an hour,’ he said. In the textbooks, they call that a conditioned reflex.” Other insightful Dmytryk recollections reward readers who seek out It’s a Hell of a Life, but Not a Bad Living. Meanwhile the long but gripping The Young Lions, featuring Hugo Friedhofer’s score on an Isolated Music Track and film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman analyzing the film on a comprehensive Audio Commentary Track, rewards viewers in beautiful black-and-white Cinemascope on TT hi-def Blu-ray.