Based on the 1948 novel by Irwin Shaw, Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions is a sprawling tale about three men before and during WWII and their reluctance to join the fight. Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando) is a German shoemaker and part-time ski instructor who, after romancing beautiful American tourist Margaret Freemantle (Barbara Rush), is turned down flat for his casual appreciation of Hitler; once he joins the war, Christian becomes disillusioned with his country's actions. The other two men, Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift), friends during the draft in New York and stick up for each other during basic training. Michael's a Broadway performer, currently dating Margaret, and has no interest in politics and war. Noah is a Macy's clerk who's not good with women, but falls in love with Hope Plowman (Hope Lange) at a party thrown by Michael.
Things get tougher from here on out: the realities of war set in soon enough, there's good and bad news from back home, trouble with authority, and even a good deal of personal growth in spite of the horrors around them. More than anything else, The Young Lions shows us three ordinary men from vastly different backgrounds, struggling to make their way through the middle of extraordinary circumstances. Irwin Shaw's source novel was just one of many novels written by WWII servicemen in the wake of 1945, including Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), James Jones 1951 debut From Here to Eternity (adapted into the successful 1953 film, also starring Clift), and Herman Wouk's 1951 novel The Caine Mutiny (adapted into the 1954 film, also directed by Dmytryk).
Not surprisingly, the greatest highlight of The Young Lions---aside from its leisurely pacing, which suits the story perfectly almost every step of the way---is its performances, especially the trio of Brando, Clift, and Martin. They're given an almost equal amount of screen time, but are never completely face-to-face during this three-hour production (one scene comes awfully close, though). Brando capably stands on his own, interacting nicely with Maximilian Schell (Captain Hardenberg, his first major Hollywood role) and, on two separate occasions, May Britt (as Gretchen, the captain's handsome wife). The role gives Brando ample room to explore his character's reluctant path in life, from his early casual admiration of Hitler to the frustration-fueled smashing of his MP 40 machine gun on the battlefield, and gives The Young Lions a confident center than it might not have had otherwise.
Meanwhile, Clift and Martin are paired up during the bulk of their pre-war, training, and wartime relationship; they're essentially two sides of the same coin, both reluctant to fight in the war for different reasons. Although The Young Lions' middle is padded a bit too much by Noah's run-ins with fellow soldiers (which results in a temporary confidence boost, and little more), it's just a small setback during a film that does just about everything else right. From the music by Hugo Friedhofer (Lifeboat, Ace in the Hole) to the screenplay by Edward Anhalt (Wives and Lovers, Becket), it's a supremely well-rounded film whose message has aged very well during the last 50+ years.
Aside from appearing on a few themed reissues, The Young Lions' last stand-alone edition was a 2001 DVD released by Fox, which served up a decent 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and...well, the theatrical trailer. Twilight Time's much anticipated new Blu-ray edition makes good use of a new Fox 4K remaster of the film, as well as a new lossless surround track and at least one excellent new bonus feature. It's much more suitable treatment for a film that's aged as well as The Young Lions, so here's hoping that it's awarded a third life on home video.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a fantastic effort that easily eclipses the 2001 DVD release. It's reportedly sourced from a brand a new 4K master of the film (provided by Fox Home Entertainment) and features strong image detail and textures, deep black levels, and only the smallest hints of dirt and debris. The Young Lions' flat production design does limit the appearance of depth, but it's less evident than in earlier home video releases. Digital imperfections are also kept to a minimum during the film's lengthy running time...and though small amounts of flickering and softness can be spotted along the way, these are most likely source material issues. Without question, The Young Lions looks terrific on Blu-ray and die-hard fans will be pleased with Twilight's disc.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The only option here (aside from an Isolated Music Track, presented in lossless 2.0) is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that mimics the film's four-track roots. In any case, this is a front-loaded experience that features clean, natural channel separation and crisp dialogue, while background effects and music cues rarely fight for attention. Rear channel activity is extremely limited, even during wartime, but it's not really needed for the most part. Volume levels and overall dynamic range seem to shift a bit from scene to scene; in some cases, you'll be reaching for your remote to quiet down the gunfire while cranking it up a few minutes later to make out some of the casual conversation. Either way, this is a satisfying mix that comes across a bit more ambitious than expected: there are even modest amounts of depth at times, even outside of the battlefield. Optional English subtitles are included during the film.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with striking black-and-white artwork and a nice little Booklet
featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork and the usual essay penned by TT regular Julie Kirgo.
Not much on paper, unfortunately, but what's here is much appreciated. Aside from the Isolated Music Track
mentioned above, we get a feature-length Audio Commentary
with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. These three participants provide a wealth of knowledge and valuable context during this lengthy session, covering expected topics like cast and crew history, the film's reception and legacy, WWII history, and more. There aren't many long gaps and it's much more than your average "back-patting" track or scene-specific narrative, so die-hard fans will thoroughly enjoy this one. Also returning from the previous DVD is the film's Theatrical Trailer
The Young Lions is a film that definitely moves at its own pace; without question, it's a satisfying and well-constructed drama that unfolds nicely and has plenty of time to breathe. About 20-25 minutes could've been cut from its middle without much consequence, but by the time we're fully invested in the story it's a forgivable nitpick. Not surprisingly, the performances are still terrific with memorable characters, interesting dynamics, and more than enough drama to keep first-time viewers guessing from start to finish. If The Young Lions isn't quite in the top tier of WWII films, it's dangerously close. Either way, Twilight Time's Blu-ray edition serves up a fantastic new transfer sourced from Fox's new 4K restoration and a few welcome extras including a feature-length commentary. Die-hard fans and interested parties alike will definitely want to snap this up while they still can. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.