In a VA (Veteran Affairs) hospital, Ken Wilocek (Marlon Brando, The Godfather), who is paralyzed from the waist down, struggles to accept his current reality. With the help of his fiancée (Teresa Wright, The Best Year of Our Lives) and a dedicated physician (Everett Sloane, Citizen Kane), Ken tries to come to terms with his disability.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“You weren’t quite so logical a few years ago when we needed some boys to ground and get killed or paralyzed.”
Though not the first American movie to deal with the physical and psychological effects of war on soldiers, the low-budget, but powerful drama The Men is the very first to focus exclusively on disabled veterans. It’s also the first movie of its kind to deal with paraplegia in a realistic manner, and other serious health issues faced by veterans of war.
The Men was sensitively written by Carl Foreman (The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone). Fred Zinnemann (High Noon and From Here to Eternity) directed in an almost documentary-like fashion. Cinematography, music and editing are understated. The cast consists mostly of real-life paraplegics. It’s evident that a lot of work went into making the movie as realistic as possible.
I admit that The Men is at times a little too eager to educate audiences about the plight of disabled veterans — The Men is well-intended if a bit heavy-handed. But it’s a remarkably honest (for 1950) movie. For example, there are a few in-depth discussions regarding impotence (the word “impotence” is never used, but you know what the characters are talking about) and even irregular bowel movements!
The most important thing about this movie is the superb, naturalistic performance by Marlon Brando, who made his film debut here. After taking Broadway by storm with his performance of Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando was offered a pile of movie scripts, but the actor was drawn to this modest production by independent producer Stanley Kramer (Judgement at Nuremberg).
Brando did extensive research in preparation for the role of the paraplegic war veteran. He went as far as to confine himself to a wheelchair during the entire shooting. Interestingly, perfectionist Brando always spoke ill of his work in the movie — the actor thought that his performance wasn’t as good as it could have been. Personally, I think it is one of his most realistic, unaffected performances.
There are other good performances that are worth mentioning. Teresa Wright is fine as Brando’s girlfriend — Wright’s traditional acting style creates a nice contrast with Brando’s raw energy. Everett Sloane’s no-nonsense physician is a pleasant surprise. In an era where it was socially acceptable for doctors to lie to their patients, it’s interesting to see one that’s brutally honest. Also, with Jack Webb (TV’s Dragnet) as a disabled veteran, and yes, that’s Trekker DeForest “Dr. McCoy” Kelley as Dr. Sherman.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Perhaps The Men isn’t as polished and gutsy as Coming Home (1978) and Born of the 4th July (1989). However, at the time it was made, The Men was groundbreaking. In addition, Marlon Brando’s no-holds-barred performance shouldn’t be missed — the man was great from the get-go! Recommended. B&W, 87 minutes, Not Rated.