The Men (1950)
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Carl Foreman
Starring: Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright, Jack Webb, Everett Sloane
Ken (Brando) is coming to terms with his new life as a paraplegic after being injured during World War II. While he lives in a military hospital, Ken and the other paralyzed vets share in the ups and downs of their injuries. In addition to his physical rehabilitation, Ken is also struggling to heal the emotional damage that comes from facing his new life. Despite making progress, Ken continues to struggle with the anger and emotion that he associates with his inability to be the man he used to be.
Fred Zinnemann (A Man For All Seasons) was the first of many great directors to work with Marlon Brando (The Godfather). The Men was Brando’s first major movie role, and kicked off his legendary career. In addition to Brando, the film featured Teresa Wright (The Best Years of Our Lives), Jack Webb (Sunset Blvd.), and Everett Sloane (Citizen Kane). This movie was made with the screenplay by Carl Foreman, a talented writer who also wrote the screenplay for High Noon amongst numerous other classics. His worked earned him an Oscar nomination, the only one for this movie.
This film is another attempt by Hollywood to translate the experiences of returning soldiers into something viewers could relate to. The story definitely doesn’t avoid the tough questions about paralysis and spinal cord injuries. In addition to the reality of their physical conditions, the film also takes a look at the emotional and psychological damage done to these wounded veterans. In contrast with the hard facts, this film also attempts to bring the question of romance into the lives of the characters. This is unfortunately where the film seems to lose focus. Instead of looking at the lives of the men, a big part of the movie seems to focus on the bright future and possibilities for Ken and Ellen (Wright).
Marlon Brando has always seemed like a natural in front of a camera, and this is no exception. His ability to embody a role is evident even in his first movie. For this movie Brando prepared like he would for many future parts. For a two weeks prior to filming, Brando lived in a military rehabilitation hospital. He used a wheelchair to move around, and spent time with the men living there. Like most of his roles, there is a quiet restraint in his performance that only gives way in key moments. This would become a trademark of his later work. In addition to the great performance by Brando, the movie also features great acting from the rest of the cast. Teresa Wright, Jack Webb, and Everett Sloane all did a great job with their parts in this film. The movie also features a large number of paralyzed veterans who agreed to be in the film, which was made at a military hospital in Southern California.
This is a good movie, but falls short in many aspects. I think the need for a happy ending hurt many of the post-war films of Hollywood. It’s still worth watching to see the early work of Marlon Brando, and great performances from the other stars. If you’re a fan of drama, or interested in the post-war movies of Hollywood, this is a must-see. I would also recommend this if you enjoyed The Best Years of Our Lives. I give this one 3.4 out of 5 stars.