The Men

"Very Good"

The Men Review


The death of Marlon Brando in July 2004 sent film fans scurrying to the video store to check out early Brando performances they may have missed. It's a worthwhile exercise. If you go all the way back to the beginning, you'll find The Men, Brando's 1950 screen debut, a dated oddity that's nevertheless a must-see for anyone curious about Brando's artistic trajectory.

Always the Method actor, Brando was rumored to have spent a month in a veteran's hospital to prepare for the role of Ken Wilcheck, a World War II vet paralyzed from the waist down by a gunshot wound. But before we get to meet Ken, we have to sit through an amazing lecture by the stern yet concerned Dr. Brock (Everett Sloan), who addresses a roomful of mothers and wives of paraplegic vets about the grim realities of paraplegia. After listening to long explanations about bowel and bladder control (it can be achieved) and the possibility of a paraplegic starting a family (not bloody likely), the women, who regard the doctor as a god, tentatively ask questions to which the doctor basically responds, "You're screwed. Accept it and move on." Then he lights a cigarette.

While many of the vets in the lively rehab ward have made it to some level of acceptance, Ken hasn't. He refuses to see his devoted fiancée, the simpering Ellen (Teresa Wright), and he stays in a private room in a drug-induced haze until Dr. Brock decides that it's time for him to snap out of it. What Ken needs is some tough love.

Dr. Brock parks him right in the middle of the ward, where he's surrounded by the smart and pragmatic Norm Butler (Jack Webb, younger and chattier than you've ever seen him), Leo Doolin (Richard Erman), who's content to smoke cigars and bet on the horses all day, and Angel Lopez (Arthur Jurado), a saintly Mexican-American with who's happy and ambitious and loved by all and who, as the only minority character in the picture, is naturally doomed to die about an hour in.

Once Ken and Ellen reunite, and once Ken gets an earful from his wardmates, he commits to making himself well and finally getting married. The movie goes into Rocky mode, with long and entertaining montages of Brando lifting weights, tossing a medicine ball around, and playing wheelchair basketball. He even gets a specially equipped car to drive.

But Ken may not be ready for the real world, and the real world may not be ready for him. Outside of the hospital he feels like a freak (and is often treated like one), and after the wedding ceremony, at which be bravely struggles to stand with braces, he and Ellen suddenly find themselves terrified by each other and the future they face. Within hours of the ceremony, he leaves Ellen and their brand new home and rushes back to the hospital, a world he understands. It's now the job of Ellen, Dr. Brock (still smoking), and his friends in the ward to build him up all over again.

So what about Brando? Though the turgid script doesn't give him much to work with, his talent is clearly on display to such an extent that he sometimes seems to be in an entirely different movie than the one his wooden co-stars are in. He's a theater guy, but he's already mastered the art of acting for the camera, especially in close-up. His naturalistic performance stands in stark contrast to the speechifying that many others do, and it's easy to see how he went on from here to memorable turns in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire and The Wild One. You aren't a true Brando fan unless you study the moment when he walked -- or wheeled -- in front of a movie camera for the first time.

Swing away, Marlon!



The Men

Facts and Figures

Run time: 85 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st September 1950

Production compaines: Stanley Kramer Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 7 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Ken Wilcheck/Bud, as Elly Wilosek, as Dr. Brock, as Norm, as Leo, as Angel, Virginia Farmer as Nurse Robbins, Dorothy Tree as Ellen's Mother, Howard St. John as Ellen's Father, Nita Hunter as Dolores, Patricia Joiner as Laverne

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