Marlon Brando did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ken in The Men.
The Men is a mostly forgotten film even though it is Marlon Brando's first film his only film before he broke out to stardom through the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. This may be because Brando isn't really himself for the most part it does not have the same screen presence he became noted for nor does it have that self indulgence that often came with his later work. This film is notable though as it is probably Marlon Brando at his most unassuming, and for my money even more notable as it contains a performance by Jack Webb where he is not playing Joe Friday but I digress.
I ought to get the negatives out of the way first which is the casting of Brando's love interest in the film who is played by Teresa Wright. I think Wright is a terrific actress and has such a natural charm, but she was miscast in the film. She plainly just doesn't seem to fit with Marlon Brando whether it be that she was about six years older then he was or that they just don't fit together. I really hate to say this as they both really try in their romantic scenes together but the chemistry needed just is not there. They do not fail in the usual way I refer to actors with bad chemistry because they both do go for it, but they just never seem compatible and at best come off as brother and sister or best friends.
The romantic aspect is one big fly in the ointment for sure as Ken relationship with his fiancee is unfortunately the focus of the film. There are also problems because Ken's journey is a little too simple. He starts very sad and down on himself then builds himself up again then he becomes sad again builds himself up again becomes sad again becomes happy finally and the film ends. It does feel a bit repetitive and there is not enough variation given to the character of Ken and his character arc feels oddly fixed like a graph where the line goes up and down in the same exact way three times without any changes in between. This is not Brando's fault as all of the transitions are spelled out by more than just his performance.
Well with that all out of the way there is some good to be said about Brando and that he is effective in portraying each of the phases of his character even though he is in this rigid structure of emotions that the film forces on him. The anguish is felt through Brando as is the happiness through some nice charm that Brando brings in the role. There is even a great moment where we see what made Brando such an unforgettable actor as that intensity he would carry in his later roles comes out in one of the scenes where Ken anger over his situation comes out. It is a great moment and you can really see that quality that made him the star he soon became although scenes like that are not seen often enough through the film unfortunately.
This is a solid performance by Marlon Brando but Brando really needed more breathing room in this part as he often seems held back, and he is left too often to watch as Fred Zinnemann handles the transitions of Ken for him. It also would have helped if his love interest had been maybe Kim Hunter for example as Wright just wasn't right for the part. This role did indicate two things about Marlon Brando. Firstly he needed to be allowed to really let loose in way this role never allowed him to do but A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront eventually did do. The other thing it did indicate though was the considerable talent that he did have including that emotionally searing quality, that eventually became his trademark of sorts, even though the film did not let him show it off as much as it could have.