Men, The (1950): Zinnemann’s Drama Starring Brando in Stunning Debut

Fred Zinnemann’s “The Men” deals with the psychological, physical, and sexual problems of paraplegics who are war veterans. Using real patients as supporting actors, “The Men” is credited with helping change the attitudes of many people toward young, disabled war veterans

Historically, though, the post-War drama became known as “the movie” that introduced Marlon Brando on the big screen in a stinging lead performance, after some distinguished work on Broadway, including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which would become his second movie.

Director Zinnemann imparts a strikingly authentic documentary-style quality to the whole film in attitude, words, and visual detail. Indeed, the major accomplishment of “The Men” resides in its simplicity yet eloquence in handling a tough and sensitive issue.

“The Men” is producer Stanley Kramers third film, after “Champion,” with Kirk Douglas, and “Home of the Brave,” both of which were scripted by Carl Foreman, and both dealing with social issues. Foreman would write one more script for Kramer and Zinnemann, the Western “High Noon,” before being blacklisted and exiled from the U.S. in 1952.

The subject matter was considered risqu and uncommercial (even folly by Hollywood standards), but liberal producer Kramer persisted and proved there was an audience to such pictures.

To get authentic accuracy and feeling into the story, Foreman spent time at the Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital in Van Nuys, California. Brando also spent two weeks there, living in a ward virtually as a patient. As such, he underwent through therapy, used a wheelchair, spent time with the men on their social and recreational activities

In fact, it was Brando who persuaded the paraplegics of the projects sincerity. As noted, much of “The Men” was shot there, and no less than 45 of the real patients agreed to appear in the film. Brando expressed his conviction in the following way: I felt this was an important dramatic situation. None of it was easy. This was about a man made completely helpless, worse than a baby or an animal. Its impossible to realize such terrible frustration and hopelessness unless you live like that.

Completely oblivious to the camera, Brando reportedly reduced his co-star, Teresa Wright, who played his fiance, to tears and won a minute of applause from cast and crew. Though only his first film, Brando shows his unique gift in drawing and holding attention by his sheer physical presence.

Brando appears early in the film as a young infantry lieutenant, leading his platoon through an embattled European town, which is considered an area clear of enemy. But a snipers bullet hits him in the lower back, and he’s sent to the hospital, where he is sullen and resentful as a patient, feeling sorry for himself.

Brando’s pride as a man makes difficult the task of readjustment, and he’s reluctance to respond to the treatment. Moreover, he wishes that his fiance would give him up. However, her love and determination has an affect on him and he agrees to go through with the wedding.

The wedding night proves painfully disappointing, and he returns to the hospital. It takes time and patience, but in the end, he realizes his responsibility to his wife, who showed undeniable courageand to himself.

The film’s impact derives from Brando’s towering performance, the realism of settings, Zinnemann’s matter-of-fact approach to material, never allowing the picture to become sentimental or maudlin, stressing both the problems and hopefulness of the war vets’ situation.

Teresa Wright shines as the bride who loves her husband too much to be discouraged by the own doubts and fears. In fact, all members of the cast excel, including Everett Stone, as doctor who knows he cant show his sympathy, Jack Webb, in one of his first appearances, as a bitter and caustic paraplegic, and Richard Erdman, as the happy-go-lucky fellow who smokes cigars and bets on horses, figuring he has “never had it so good.”

 

 

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