Film Review

The Men

todaySeptember 21, 2023 100

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Marlon Brando, disabled representation, Stanley Kramer/Fred Zimmermann collaborations

Released in 1950, The Men is the film premiere of one Marlon Brando.  Reportedly, he brought quite a chip on his shoulder to the production, but this unforced method acting proved to be effective in giving his character an added dimension.  Brando plays Ken “Bud” Wilocek, a recovering soldier who must deal with his injury in World War II and his now paraplegic condition.  As was his way, Brando prepared for the role by living and working out with paraplegics for several weeks in advance to give him the needed approach for his performance. All of the future acting elements of Brando are on full display in the film from his slurring words, finding physical ticks or motions to reflect character, and his undeniable physical force which at times is frightening.

In this case, he is working with the incredible trio of producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zimmermann, and screenwriter Carl Forman.  These men were behind such films as High Noon, Inherit the Wind, and From Here to Eternity.  Zimmermann is known for being the director to launch the careers of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Meryl Streep. In all these examples, there was much attention given to important and challenging ideas and themes matched up with superb writing and acting.

The supporting cast is equal to the task of Brando, in particular three Hollywood actors and several non-professional actors who were paraplegic.  The Hollywood actors are Theresa Wright as the fiancee Ellen, who pushes through the resistance of Bud, her parents, and society to love her future husband.  Future star of Dragnet, Jack Webb, does an admirable job as the cynical rehabilitation philosopher poet.  And finally, the incomparable Everett Sloane as Doctor Brock, a dedicated, tough-loving doctor who challenges his patients and their families to think in a new way. Sloane is most well known (rightly so) for being part of Orson Welles’s troupe of actors, and he played the unforgettable Bernstein in Citizen Kane. His performance here is equally superb.

Now, the casting of real paraplegics in the film was essential to the film’s authenticity.  In particular, Arthur Jurado as Angel is an important figure in the character development of Bud and he brings a joy to his performance and a key counterbalance to the negativity of the other patients. He also brings some needed diversity in the film.  His character is a bit one-sided but still must be noted as a big step in representation.  It is vital to cast actors with disabilities in these roles because they can give a lived experience that abled-actors will never be able to fully portray. Although it has aspects that have not aged well, it still holds an important place in the representation of disabilities in film.  

Available to stream on Amazon Prime

Written by: Gareth Jones

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