Problem Pictures

film 2 of 5

The Men

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

One always hears about Zinneman’s documentary past and its bearing on his features, but all anyone can come up with is stuff like the handheld camera in the opening battle sequence here, but there’s much more to it, which is what makes this such a strange and fascinating and atypical Hollywood production; it’s a problem and solution structure, but even more transparently than Best Years of Our Lives the problem and solution are to be applied to social realities and how the citizen should most effectively and compassionately respond, it’s absolute Stanley Kramer do-goodism, but much better than usual because there’s no vulgar fictional overlay: one imagines that that Pare Lorentz birth film was like this, and one remembers that Let There Be Light is very similar, and the felicitous reading of Grierson at the same time suggests the very wide possibilities of treating actuality creatively, in fact the film is actually inspiring for being basically an instructional piece, and a successful one that makes no bones about what it is, one that was released into the regular theatres, where it entertained and taught at the same time, I believe this is what Grierson meant about putting his output into the theatres, which would soon be filled not by passive gawking consumers, but with engaged citizens who were helped by the films to know their duty and perform it better; right off Everett Sloan talks directly and at length to the women at the hospital about what the men’s challenges are, and the order of his lecture becomes the structure of the film (despondency, digestion, sexual problems, etc.), Brando is a wild dangerous presence, Wright an effective audience stand-in, the hispanic guy, an obvious non-actor who exemplifies the best of that neo-realist tenet, is written and directed and performed with touching completeness, respect and uncondescension, Webb’s surprisingly good; Waterdance is nearly a remake, though its explicitness (as opposed to frankness here) really hurts it, the end is very strong, the victory small but real, the problem not solved, but there’s will and the possibility to live fully with it