The Young Lions is a canvas of the Second World War of scope and stature. It’s a kingsized credit to all concerned, from Edward Anhalt’s skillful adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s novel to Edward Dmytryk’s realistic direction, and the highly competent portrayals of virtually everyone in the cast.
Marlon Brando’s interpretation of Anhalt’s modified conception of the young Nazi officer; Montgomery Clift, the drafted GI of Jewish heritage; Dean Martin as a frankly would-be draft-dodger until the realities of war catch up with him are standout all the way.
Hope Lange gives a sensitive performance as the New England girl opposite Clift and Barbara Rush is properly more resourceful as Martin’s romantic vis-a-vis. Even more vivid are the performances of Sweden’s May Britt, making her US film debut in the role of the cheating wife of the Nazi officer, latter capitally played by Switzerland’s Maximilian (young brother of Maria) Schell, also making his Hollywood bow.
Dmytryk effectively highlights the human values on both the German and American home-fronts. It gravitates from the boot-camp in the States to the fall of France, the North African campaign, the deterioration of the Third Reich, the smirking obsequiousness to the invading Yanks by the Bavarian town mayor when the GIs liberate the inhuman concentration camp, and the gradual disillusionment of the once ardent Nazi as symbolized by Brando.
The Anhalt screenplay captures shade and nuance of role in pithy, pungent dialog. The accent on romance is as strong as the war stuff. Underplaying is the keynote of virtually all the performances.
1958: Nominations: Best B&W Cinematography, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Sound