FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
A movie that works on multiple levels, From Here to Eternity is a well written, character driven film that features fine performances from all involved.
The film begins in Schofield, Hawaii, 1941. Recently transferred Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is told by G-company Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) that he had personally pulled strings so Prewitt -a well reputed middle weight boxer- can represent his unit in an upcoming boxing tournament, assuring them a victory and the Captain a promotion.
Prewitt declines the offer, on the grounds that he has quit boxing. Disappointed with his decision, Capt. Holmes retaliates by ordering his men to give Prewitt ‘special treatment’ until he caves.
Meanwhile Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) begins an affair with Capt. Homes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr), who seeks love else where due to the constant loneliness and neglect from her husband; Prewitt’s best friend Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) goes AWOL and is sent to the stockade where sadistic Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson (Ernest Borgnaine) dishes out regular beatings as revenge for prior altercations; and Prewiit falls in love with social club ‘employee’ Alma “Lorene” Burke (Donna Reed). In the horizon awaits the Japanese ready to attack Pearl Harbour.
Director Fred Zinnemann craftily weaves all the numerous sub plots creating a great ensemble drama, with much credit due to the excellent job by screenwriter Daniel Taradash who successfully adapts James Jones’ “un-filmable” novel (due to its negative portrayal of the army and profanity).
The two main characters are men of much strength and virtue, are caught in complicated relationships and both hold a deep love for their country and yet they are drastically different from one another. Prewitt is a loner, bitter experience developing a sensitive, stubborn soul while Warden is very much a straight shooter, an exemplary soldier who constantly picks up the slack when the Captain goes out to play.
Both Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster are great in these roles, especially Clift, whose Marlon Brando meets James Dean persona brings forth the sensitive nature of Pruitt, a ‘new age’ soldier if you will.
The supporting cast are just as good. Deborah Kerr plays the tragic character very well, her confession about the death of her just born child (thanks in part to the irresponsible actions of her husband), is a sad and sympathetic scene which helps in harbouring resentment towards Capt. Holmes (played to slime-ball perfection by Philip Ober).
But the best and most memorable performance belongs to Frank Sinatra as the hot headed, ballsy Pvt. Angelo Maggio. Supposedly winning the role due to outside pressure by the mafia, Sinatra is simply a pleasure to watch, with the “Chairman of the Board” putting on an entertaining exhibition of his acting range which was quite surprising. Donna Reed, Ernest Bornaine and Jack Warden are also good.
Burnett Guffrey’s cinematography was a big reason towards the films success. No one will forget the iconic image of Lancaster and Kerr kissing on the beach as wave’s crash around them. Another highlight is how Zinnemann filmed the attack by the Japanese in a short but very effective scene.
They just can’t make movies like this these days. Pearl Harbour tried and failed miserably. Old Hollywood at its best, definitely a movie to watch again and again.