The Young Lions (film)

The Young Lions

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Produced by Al Lichtman
Screenplay by Edward Anhalt
Based on The Young Lions
1948 novel
by Irwin Shaw
Starring Marlon Brando
Montgomery Clift
Dean Martin
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox
Release dates
  • April 2, 1958 (1958-04-02)
Running time
167 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.55 million[1]
Box office $4.48 million (US/ Canada rentals) [2]

The Young Lions is a 1958 American CinemaScope war drama film directed by Edward Dmytryk, based upon the 1948 novel of the same name by Irwin Shaw, and starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin.


German ski instructor Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando) is hopeful that Adolf Hitler will bring new prosperity to Germany, so when war breaks out he joins the army as a lieutenant. Dissatisfied with police duty in Paris, he requests to be transferred and is assigned to the front in North Africa. He sees what the war has done to his captain (Maximilian Schell) and the captain's wife (May Britt), and he is sickened by their behavior.

Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) befriend each other during their U.S. Army draft physical examination and attend basic training together.They are then stationed in London. Michael is in show business and romantically involved with socialite Margaret Freemantle (Barbara Rush) who, coincidentally, in 1938 dated Christian in the Bavarian Alps where she spent her skiing vacation. She was upset by his Nazi beliefs and deserted him on New Year's Eve to return to Michael.

Noah, who is Jewish and employed as a junior department store clerk, attends a party Michael throws, where he meets Hope Plowman (Hope Lange). She falls in love with him and introduces her fiancé to her provincial father, who doesn't like Jews but has never met one. After a chat with Noah, the father approves of the marriage.

In the service, a commanding officer and some of the tough guys in his company try to bully Noah and demonstrate their bigotry. Noah gains the respect of the enlisted men by standing up to them in a series of fist fights, even though he's much smaller and often badly hurt. Authorities however discover Noah's deprived situation, and court-martial his officer.

Each of these soldiers comes to view the war differently. Christian is conflicted, hating what the war has done to his fellow Germans, but unable to escape from his role in it. He despises what his fellow soldiers have done in the name of the Fatherland but is determined to fulfill his duty to the end. While visiting his seriously wounded captain in a hospital, he unwittingly brings him a sharp weapon, and later learns from the captain's attractive and seductive wife that he had committed suicide there.

Michael spends most of the war on a safe easy job, nowhere near any real fighting, thanks to his Broadway fame. He finally decides to join the fighting after Margaret shames him into it. By pulling strings, he rejoins his old outfit on the front in the war's final days, a bit too late to matter.

Noah simply does his duty to the best of his ability, hoping to live through the horrors of war and get home safely to his wife and their new baby. He has a heroic moment where he risks his own life by swimming across a river to save a frightened fellow soldier, one who was especially prejudiced against him in boot camp. Meanwhile Christian discovers the reality of the Nazi regime when he stumbles upon a concentration camp filled with Jews, and hearing the commander tell of the exterminations. Shortly afterwards, the camp is liberated by American forces including Michael and Noah. The mayor (John Banner) of a nearby town offers working parties of his constituents, anticipating media attention. However, he is rudely rebuffed by Whiteacre and Ackerman's company commander, Captain Green (Arthur Franz), when an imprisoned rabbi asks Green for permission to hold a religious service, and the mayor protests.

Seeing how Ackerman is affected by the camp, Green instructs him to take a walk and sends Whiteacre with him. Shocked and disgusted, the two GIs wander away from the camp. Nearby, dazed, tired, and hungry Christian hides with his weapon, but then screams in rage, breaking his MP 40 apart. The noise draws Michael and Noah, and upon seeing the German, Michael shoots Christian. The two Americans silently watch Christian die, and then quietly walk back towards camp.

The final scene shows Ackerman emerging from the same subway station through which he left home to the war. As Hope notices him, she lifts up their daughter for him to see, and he then ascends the stairs to his family.



The film became a box-office success and was the key to Martin's comeback in the wake of his split with partner Jerry Lewis. Tony Randall originally had Martin's role but talent agency MCA insisted that Martin replace Randall so they'd have "a quadruple threat" (an audience from four sectors): night clubs, recordings, television, and movies. Martin ended up getting splendid reviews and launched a very successful solo career as an actor.

This was the only film (aside from home movies) that Brando and Clift made together. However, they don't share any scenes together (aside from Martin and Clift standing over Brando's character who is dead). The picture was produced by Al Lichtman and was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film and three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound (Carlton W. Faulkner) and Best Music in 1959.[3]


Critical reception

The Young Lions was well received by film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 83% critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.6/10. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, most impressed by Brando's performance, gave the film a favorable review, and also praised the film adaptation by Dmytryk.[4] Variety also gave a positive review, and noted: "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."[5]

Box office

The film was a box office success[6] and took in $4,480,000 in North American rentals.

See also


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p251
  2. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  3. "The 31st Academy Awards (1959) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  4. Movie Review: The Young Lions (1958).
  5. The Young Lions Review.
  6. Film Favourites By Lachlan Hazelton: The Young Lions.
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