Film Length: 85 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (4:3)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Retail Price: $14.95
In my opinion Marlon Brando is the greatest actor to ever grace the screen due to such stunning and emotionally devastating performances in films such as Last Tango in Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and the underrated and sadly forgotten The Night of the Following Day. With these performances, Brando brought a new way of acting to the screen, which was something people hadn’t seen before or since. Whenever fans discuss Brando however, they always seem to leave out his film debut, The Men, which makes its DVD debut thanks to Artisan/Redemption.
Ken (Brando) goes off to fight in WW2 expecting the biggest battle of his life but that all changes when an enemy fires a shot into his back, forcing him to the ground in pain. At first Ken thought he was dying but it turns out that the bullet hit his spine and now he will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair. A year after the injury Ken is still laid up in a Veterans Hospital where he has made very little progress. Dr. Brock (Everett Sloan) thinks that Ken is simply too lazy to want to walk again but Ken sees no point in trying because he isn’t dumb enough to believe in fantasies.
Ken’s fiancé Ellen (Teresa Wright) continues to visit him but soon he is dragging her down in the mud as well. Ellen tries her best to talk Ken into trying his new like but he wants no part of it. Ken stays in bed all day not socializing with the other patients until finally he feels something in his legs. This here gives Ken hop that perhaps with hard work he could return to his normal life so that’s what he aims for but there are going to be many bumps in the road, most of which are brought on my his attitude, which he sees no one else being hurt but himself.
The Men was probably a lot more hard hitting back in 1950 than it is today due to many recent films dealing with paraplegic issues but this film here still holds a good punch due to the many wonderful performances including the film debut of Marlon Brando. The movie tries to tackle many issues that revolve around being paralyzed and for the most part Brando and director Zinnemann succeed but there are a few moments, which should have either been edited out or simply looked at in a better way.
The biggest problem with the film is that it starts off trying to explain everything that a paraplegic goes through. In one of the first scenes Dr. Brock is gathered in a small room with the wives of several of the men and they are tossing questions at him left and right. It seems the director was trying to throw the fact in our face that these men would never live normal lives again and then we get to hear about the depression that could sit in. The film then makes sure that we understand the men will never be the same but most return to their lives yet others fall deeper into depression. This entire scene feels out of place because we are about to see this very thing happen.
When we first see Brando he is having a flashback to his injury and with narration he tells us that at first he was scared to die but afterwards he was scared to live. The rest of the movie deals with everything that Dr. Brock talked about during that opening sequence so we really aren’t in for any shocks or surprises. We know Brando will have a breakdown, find a bit of hope only to fall back down. This happens throughout the movie, which is why the screenplay isn’t too well thought out or perhaps this was just a starring vehicle to get Brando’s name known.
Brando does a brilliant job here, although there are a few rough spots around the edges, which he would work out in later films. Brando goes through all sorts of emotions throughout the film and he pulls them off wonderfully especially towards the end of the film where he is voted out of the hospital by his roommates. A lesser actor would have screamed, shouted or drew whatever attention to themselves that they could have but the way Brando handles this scene is exactly why he’s a legend. Another wonderful moments include at the start of the film when we see the depressed Brando fighting with the doctor over wanting to live or wanting to die. Teresa Wright is decent in her small role but she’s basically just there for Brando to fight with.
Even with some of the dated talk, The Men still contains some very powerful moments and it reaches a highly emotional state as well. The film deals with all sorts of depressing issues and the director never backs away from any of them. The thoughts of life and death are always upfront and the viewer will leave the film with a better appreciation of those who are actually confined to a wheelchair. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the film but that’s what comes out of The Men.
VIDEO---The film is shown standard (4:3), which is the correct ratio. Considering the wonderful work Warner and Fox are doing with their classics makes this transfer all the more disappointing. I’ve only seen this movie previous on a VHS but that’s exactly what the transfer here looks like. The opening sequence in the battlefield looks so incredibly bad that this is tampering on budget label material. The opening scenes takes place in the day yet there is so much dirt that it appears to be close to nighttime. There are speckles and scratches all over the place as well, which is very distracting. Once the film moves to the hospital things get a little better but speckles continue throughout. The blacks look way too soft and there’s a few scenes that look fuzzy and out of focus. Even stranger is that there are a few instances where frames seem to be missing because of some rather quick and obvious cuts.
AUDIO---The Dolby Digital Mono track is sadly no better than the video. Right from the start I thought my speakers were making some popcorn because of all the cracks and pops coming from them. The hiss is also very loud during that opening segment and this continues throughout the quiet moments of the film. The cracks and pops clear up somewhat but they are still heard throughout the track. Other than that the dialogue is easily heard if somewhat distorted.
EXTRAS---No extras are included.
OVERALL---I highly recommend this film to those who haven’t seen it yet I’m really not sure what to say about the DVD. The picture quality is very bad but I doubt we’ll be seeing this re-released anytime soon so perhaps a rental would be the best advice to give you. I’m sure fans of Brando will want this in their collections but it’s a shame Artisan delivered such a lousy product. I could care less about extras as long as the V/A is good but that’s not the case here.
Release Date: December 16, 2003