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October 17, 2007

The Montgomery Clift Blog-a-thon: The Young Lions

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Edward Dmytryk - 1958
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

In an inteview in The Paris Review, Irwin Shaw discusses how he originally wanted to link his three main characters in his novel, The Young Lions. It is some of the links to Montgomery Clift's life and career that are more interesting than the actual film. Aside from the fact that the two top billed stars, Clift and Marlon Brando, never actually share screen time, the film is overlong with too many dull stretches. It is almost no surprise that in alternating two or three stories over a running time of 167 minutes, the most watchable scenes almost always are those with Dean Martin.

Like From Here to Eternity, The Young Lions is based on a big, and best-selling novel about World War II by a tough guy novelist. Once again, Clift gets to demonstrate his boxing abilities. In the case of the later film, Dean Martin took a cut in pay to establish himself as a more capable actor like Sinatra before him, with the help of Clift. As it turned out, what is one of Martin's best performances is the role of Dude in Rio Bravo, a part originally offered to Clift. Too what extent Montgomery and Martin were friends off-screen has not been fully documented. I can imagine that at least on an intuitive level, Dean Martin understood that like himself, Montgomery Clift's screen persona was not that of the same person away from the camera.

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Of course Clift had at least as much to prove as Martin, that he could still act, and take on a physically demanding role. It seems like more than coincidence that Clift would work on two films in a row with Edward Dmytryk, especially as their previous collaboration was Raintree County. Perhaps there was a feeling that Dmytryk, more than anyone else, would know how to film the post-accident Clift. Through most of the film, Clift is filmed in medium shot or in full shot. There is only one close-up near the end of the film.

The Young Lions also has unintended links with Clift's career past and future. The fifteen year old Clift probably paid little, if any, attention to two year old Hope Lange. It was Lange's mother, Minette, who helped coach the juvenile star when he still spoke with an English accent. And while Clift did not share the screen with Maximillian Schell in The Young Lions, that would change three years later with Judgment at Nuremburg. What is interesting in The Young Lions also is that Schell plays a character whose face is destroyed. Clift's last Academy Award nominated performance was beaten by George Chakiris is West Side Story, a film co-directed by Clift's former lover Jerome Robbins.

According to Patricia Bosworth's biography of Clift, we could have seen the two stars from Omaha, Nebraska, Clift and Brando, together had they not turned down East of Eden. The closest we have now is a shot of Clift and Martin walking away from Brando, or his stunt double, face down in a stream. Four years earlier, Brando took the part of Napoleon in Desiree, a role first offered to Clift. Because of Clift's death, Brando took the role in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Clift's own motivations. as indicated in Bosworth's biography, for doing The Young Lions, do not always come through. It is the some of the links with the talent involved that make the film an unintended summation of a career that was extremely fragmented, not always successful, but well intended.

Visit The Film Experience for more on Monty.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 17, 2007 12:10 AM