Fred Zinnemann's sensitive 1950 study of paraplegic Second World War veterans is a message movie with a direct current of emotion that surges from Marlon Brando. Resentment, confusion, fury, hurt: Brando, in his film debut, expresses everything going on inside his character, an orphan and loner with what '50s educators called "an attitude problem." Everett Sloane, as the veterans'-hospital doctor in charge of paraplegics, pegs him as a rebel, then advises him that before he can change the world he must accept it "without illusions." Carl Foreman's screenplay, which centers on Brando's up-and-down relationship with his fiancee, Teresa Wright, supports that point of view -- a reasonable one. But Brando's power transcends reason. He learns to ask for help without losing his rage. This film lays out problems and suggest solutions, including toughlove-like therapy, with an urgency that goes hand-in-hand with its topicality. Even the title is charged. Many of the characters, including those played by Brando and the nonprofessional Arthur Jurado (a paraplegic himself), went into the war as boys; now they struggle to see themselves as complete men. The scenes that depict their romantic and family dilemmas are like adolescent nightmares, only heightened and deepened. When Brando decides to get into shape, he turns the workout footage into an adolescent ideal of attaining physical power. "The Men" is always intelligent and moving. Because of Brando's kinetic intensity, it's also exhilarating.
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