Ex-GI Ken (Marlon Brando) who as a result of a war wound is paralyzed below the waist. In the hospital back home, he passes through an initial period of depression with the help of a sympathetic Dr. Brock (Everett Sloane) and his faithful fiancée Ellen (Teresa Wright). Ken's bitter isolation is also overcome with the help of his fellow patients, especially the intelligent young cynic Norm (Jack Webb), the witty Leo (Richard Erdman) and serious young Angel (Arthur Jurado).
Soon Ken throws himself into the work rehabilitation and after a long period of physical therapy even suspects he may regain the use of his limbs. With the approval and help of the doctor, he and Ellen marry, but on their wedding night both have misgivings about the marriage: the full realization of Ellen's new responsibilities frighten her and makes her more uncertain than ever, and Ken reverts to self-pity. There is a violent argument, and he goes back to the hospital. But his blazing anger finds no sympathy from his buddies, and after a surprising conversation with Dr. Brock, Ken realizes that he must return to his wife, with whom he must try to build his new life, in spite of all the attendant difficulties.
Marlon Brando ... Kenneth 'Ken' Wilcheck / 'Bud'
Teresa Wright ... Ellen 'Elly' Wilosek
Everett Sloane ... Dr. Eugene 'Gene' Brock
Jack Webb ... Norm Butler
Richard Erdman ... Leo Doolin
Arthur Jurado ... Angel Lopez
Virginia Farmer ... Nurse Robbins
Dorothy Tree ... Harriet - Ellen's mother
Howard St. John ... Ellen's father
Nita Hunter ... Dolores
Patricia Joiner ... Laverne
John 'Skins' Miller ... Mr. Doolin (as John Miller)
Cliff Clark ... Dr. Kameran
Ray Teal ... Man at Bar
Marguerite Martin ... Angel's mother
In a Hospital for World War II veterans, many injured soldiers try to recuperate from debilitating illnesses. The focus of the story is Ken Wilcheck (Marlon Brando), a soldier who is having a hard time accepting the fact that he is confined to a wheelchair. Surprisingly honest and still powerful drama, that manages to be both anti-war and pro-soldier. Considering the fact that this is an almost 60 year old movie, I was truly amazed to see how this film explores controversial issues in a frank manner; there is plenty of talk regarding the sex life of a paraplegic and there are moments when the film seems to be questioning the validity of war (specifically World War II). This is Brando's movie debut, and he already looks every inch the great movie star; it is one of his best performances. Teresa Wright is fine as Brando's wife. Director Zinnemann's technique is both simple and powerfully direct.
Marlon Brando's feature film debut was in this small budget independently produced film The Men about paralyzed World War II veterans and their adjustments. The Men also came out at around the same time as Warner Brothers Bright Victory about blind veterans and their adjustment to society.
The Men did not have the strong support of a major studio, but it had Marlon Brando who was winning raves at this time for his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire. Many a time Broadway stars before and since did not recreate their career roles on film because Hollywood wanted box office insurance.
Stanley Kramer's independently produced film, risked no money for a major studio and proved Marlon Brando could both be a screen presence and a box office draw. So Brando and the entire Broadway cast with the exception of Jessica Tandy got to preserve A Streetcar Named Desire as it was first seen on stage on the strength of his good notices for The Men.
Brando dominates the film with combination of charm and bitterness not too many other actors could achieve. He's condemned to a wheelchair, not sure what if any of the functions of his lower body he will be able to use and control. His bitterness nearly drives away Teresa Wright who loves him in spite of all.
Look for good performances by Howard St. John and Dorothy Tree as Wright's parents, Everett Sloane as the doctor treating spinal cord injuries like Brando's and Richard Erdman as Brando's horse playing veteran friend. You might remember Erdman from Stalag 17 as barracks chief Hoffman. He's just as good here in The Men.
The wars change, but the injuries to life and limb to our armed services remain the same as do the problems therein. In that sense The Men is a timeless classic and the debut of a legend.
This 1950 film had a triple threat in bringing it to the screen. There was Stanley Kramer producing, Carl Foreman writing and Fred Zinneman directing. Mr. Zinneman also distinguished himself as a director with the likes of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE SEARCH, MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and THE NUN'S STORY. The film is also under the title of BATTLE STRIPE.
It marked the introduction of Marlon Brando to the movie goers fresh from his Broadway success as Stanley Kolowski in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, which he also brought to film. And what a debut this dynamic actor made in the world of film and acting. It was the time of James Dean, Montgomery Clift and Brando.
Brando plays a war veteran, paralyzed in combat, facing the torturous ordeal of rehabilitation as a paraplegic. He is thorough and totally convincing in the role. Playing his fiance and eventually his wife is the lovely Theresa Wright, in another heartwarming performance that is expected of her. She works well with Brando, which, I'm sure, was no easy task.
In supporting roles, outstanding were Jack Webb and Richard Erdman as fellow veterans. Webb was excellent and far from his DRAGNET persona. I also liked Everett Sloan as the doctor who had to deal with watching "the men" face the reality of the world as it was. Arthur Jurado plays a young veteran that works hard to bring himself back to normalacy, whatever that is. There were 45 Men of Birmingham Veteran's Hospital playing themselves.
An excellent picture of it's time. And Brando's film legend beginning. A time when he was in top form with such films as STREETCAR, VIVA ZAPATA and THE WILD ONE that soon followed.
* Stars 49 of the men from Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital.
* Marlon Brando's screen debut. He is reported to have prepared for his role as an embittered paraplegic by lying in bed for a month in a veterans' hospital.
* This film features the first public games of the Paralyzed Veterans Association's water polo and wheelchair basketball team members.
* To accustom himself to his role as a paraplegic, Brando remained in a wheelchair on and off the set for the duration of the shoot. He reluctantly made an exception to this "method" in order to attend a Hollywood party where he wanted to meet Charlie Chaplin. His date, Shelly Winters, through whom he had access to the party, insisted he come dressed nicely and sans wheelchair or not come at all.
* Jay Kantor, a mail-room clerk at Lew Wasserman's talent agency Music Corp. of America in 1949, was sent to pick up Broadway actor Marlon Brando and drive him to the agency. Impressed by the young man, Brando promptly appointed Kantor his agent. Kantor got Brando his first film role, that of the paraplegic Army officer in this film, for $50,000 (approximately $400,000 in 2006 money).
* In the early part of the film, inside the hospital ward, a paraplegic solider is reading Superman comic book, #62. #62: Black Magic on Mars (January/February 1950) involves a plot line with Orson Welles and his famous radio broadcast, "War of the Worlds" about Martian invasion of America. Welles may have been promoting his new film, Black Magic (1949). Harry W. Gerstad, Gustaf Norin, Jean Speak, and Clem Beauchamp, production staff for many of Kramer's films, would later work for the 1950s television series, "Adventures of Superman" (1952).