From Here to Eternity was released in 1953 and was one of the most popular films of the 1950s. Starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, and Frank Sinatra, this film is a prime example of character study. As I watched this film, I paid close attention to these actors and the characters that they were portraying and I couldn’t look away. Fred Zimmemann directed the film and won the Academy Award for shepherding this spectacle of this film, based on the novel by James Jones.
The film takes places prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) arrives in Hawaii after a transfer to the rifle company. He explains to Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober) that his reasons for the transfer are personal but learns that he was brought to this Company because of his skills as a boxer and Captain Holmes wants him to compete so that the Company has a chance of winning. We later learn that Prewitt hurt a good friend of his during a sparring match and feels deeply upset and vows to never fight again. Holmes and several other officers don’t agree with Prewitt’s choice to not fight and proceed to give him harsh punishments such as double duty, vigorous exercises, and verbal abuse at times. It’s sad to see this man who started out as a bugler be treated this way. He later shows us how good he is when he uses the bugle throughout the course of the film.
Prewitt’s only friend is Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), a man who jokes with others, is fond of the women in town, and enjoys a drink from time to time. When the soldiers aren’t busy with Army routines such as marching, cleaning their weapons, or following orders, the men enjoy their time in town and often frequent the New Congress Club which is a gentlemen’s club. Sinatra commands every scene that he is in including one scene that was a screen test later used in the film. He too won the award for Best Supporting Actor. Along the way, Prewitt meets a woman named Lorene (Donna Reed) and strikes up a relationship with her. She is sweet, pretty, and is looking to be a proper woman. Meanwhile First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) falls in love with Captain Holmes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr). Karen is neglected and left all alone while her husband is always away in town on “business.” She is sad, lonely, and finds herself attracted to Milton. Their romance is sweet but must be kept secret so that no one knows about their relationship.
The famous beach scene with Karen and Milton is fantastically shot and feels very romantic. In fact, that scene was shot on location in Hawaii but interestingly the script for that scene was written that Karen and Milton were supposed to be standing and kissing. It was Lancaster who suggested that he and Kerr lay down on the beach and have the waves hit them. It took all day to get that right shot and for that reason, it’s still famous. There are so many good scenes in this film and I can’t reveal them to you, you just have to see them for yourself.
The film itself was a subject of controversy due to the content of the book with which it is based on by Jones. The book was released in 1951 and was an instant hit. The book tackled subjects ranging from violence, sexuality, prostitution, and foul language, and at that time in Hollywood those subjects were considered taboo. After viewing this film, I feel inclined to find a copy of the book and read it. Fred Zinnemann’s direction is on-point with the casting, the camera shots, and the impeccable script by Daniel Taradash who won for Best Screenplay. From the abuses endured by Prewitt, to Ernest Borgnine’s performance, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, this is a film that is powerful in its story as much as it’s acting.
The pacing in this film is great jumping from one character to the next giving us different stories about the men in this Company. The soundtrack sets the mood for the pivotal moments in the film and I found myself highly entertained by this film. I do enjoy older films because they are different. There is more focus on acting and character building and there is plenty here to see. Fathom Events offered us great films this year and a new list has been announced for 2017. From Here to Eternity plays again in theaters on December 14th. Don’t miss this classic.