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The lives of a German ski instructor, a Jewish store clerk and a Broadway playboy, all of whom become soldiers in WW2, are traced from training camp to the fall of France and to Northern Africa before converging at a concentration camp in Bavaria. The idealistic German Christian Diestl (Marlon Brando) is at first an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler but when he joins the Wehrmacht he becomes increasingly disillusioned with Nazi brutality. Before fighting the Germans, the shy and awkward Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) is troubled by the deep anti-Semitism within his own ranks and Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) wrestles with the demons of conscience and cowardice. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse
This bloated adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s sprawling bestseller is for the most part all reputation with no discernible repute, but might have been a more worthy film without the damaging interference of its egotistical star. At Brando’s insistence, the hardened Nazi that was so fervent and frightening in the book was softened into a sympathetic sacrificial lamb. Brando argued that Shaw made a monster of the German in the steaming aftermath of the war but the author later told the actor that he would not have changed his concept even if he had written the book a decade later. 

This was the first and last time that Brando and Clift, who were considered the finest exponents of the Method school of acting, would appear together on the screen and there was tension between them. Brando, very blonde and very handsome, was given top billing and Clift, who could not control his drinking after being scarred in a near-fatal road accident, looked wretched and was often too smashed to work in the afternoon. Clift stormed from the set when Brando suggested a finale of battering-ram symbolism that would leave him sprawled Christ-like across a barbed-wire fence. Brando’s influence seriously affected Dmytryk’s work, which is efficient without flare and more pedestrian than powerful. But at least he successfully blocked one Brando brainstorm…a pompous speech about the plight of America’s blacks that he wanted to insert into the screenplay. Martin, who signed for his first serious role when Tony Randall declined, was unimpressed with his bickering co-stars and said: “All I did was play it as you see me…as a likeable coward.” 

But his best moment is a speech which encapsulates all the anti-war sentiment of then and now: “I know that in 10 years,” his character says, “we’ll be bosom friends with the Germans and the Japanese. Then I’ll be pretty annoyed that I was killed.” Banned in Egypt, the film was also subject to censorship difficulties in Israel, but a local official probably nailed it when he said: “We don’t believe a Nazi such as Mr Brando’s ever existed.”

Published August 14, 2003

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(US) - 1958

CAST: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin

DIRECTOR: Edward Dmytryk

RUNNING TIME: 167 minutes

PRESENTATION: Anamorphic widescreen 2.35

SPECIAL FEATURES: Original trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 13, 2003

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