From Here to Eternity (1953)
"Pouring out of impassioned pages...brawling their way to greatness on the screen! "In 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second in command are falling in love.
One of the Best of the Fifties
If FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is the best war movie ever made, it is because
it deals so exclusively with the human element of war. This is director
Fred Zinnemann's masterpiece, the worthy recipient of eight Oscars.
Without a doubt the best film of 1953, it is also one of the classics
of world cinema.
Fred Zinnemann's strengths as a filmmaker--his intelligence and ability
to tell a good story--serve him well in his direction of the excellent
screenplay by Daniel Taradash. This is one of those rare wonders of
film-making where so much that could have gone wrong goes miraculously
right. The screenplay extracted from James Jones' novel couldn't be
better, nor could the major characters have been entrusted to a finer
Montgomery Clift rose to major stardom in A PLACE IN THE SUN, but in
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY he tops everything done by an actor in the 1950s,
save Brando's ON THE WATERFRONT. The most photogenic of actors during
this period, he portrays a man with principles, a man who has to go his
own way, and while we may cringe at some of the scenes where he has to
endure "the treatment" because he refuses to yield to the whims of his
superiors, we cannot help but identify with the man who has made the
Burt Lancaster plays the honest and confident sergeant, just the type
of character who would make a hero for a major film, and although he is
somewhat overshadowed by Clift, he is excellent and always a pleasure
to watch. His strong face and body have the look of authority, and this
may have been the first film where Lancaster was really acclaimed for
his acting (although I also like his work in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA
and THE KILLERS). Lancaster received his first Oscar nomination, and
though Clift (on his third nomination) should easily have won, both
actors split the votes to the benefit of William Holden in STALAG 17.
Deborah Kerr, all vestiges of her Scottish accent discarded, plays a
hot tamale of a captain's wife with something of a past. She doesn't
sleep with her husband, but it doesn't take her and Lancaster long to
size each other up as potential lovers. In terms of length, Miss Kerr's
role is more of a supporting one, but she brings such a wealth of
strength and sensitivity to her scenes that she lifts her role to
starring status. She received her second Best Actress nomination.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is quite famous for the performance of Frank
Sinatra, very good as the hot-tempered Italian who won't back down from
the wrath of Ernest Borgnine as the sergeant of the guard at the
stockade where Sinatra has been sent after going AWOL. In his opening
scenes, Sinatra seems to be the only sign of comic relief, but his
final scene in Montgomery Clift's arms, when his last thoughts are of
his friend and what could happen to him, has intense dramatic force.
Sinatra won an Oscar in the supporting category, as did Donna Reed for
an excellent performance as the girl who becomes involved with Clift.
This love affair has real warmth and heart. Miss Reed has a genuine
sweetness in her scenes with Clift (plus a tragic quality in the film's
final scene with Deborah Kerr) that gives her scenes in the New
Congress Club a brittle hardness that is doubly potent.
All the girls in the New Congress Club look and act like hookers, but
there is nothing in the action or dialogue that substantiates this. In
fact, all efforts seem to have been made to give these girls the
appearance of innocence, as if apologizing for including such scenes in
a mainstream movie. Of course, the reasons were obvious in 1953: kids
could see this movie and have no questions later, while adults got the
picture. How many adults could think Army men would be satisfied with
soft drinks and dancing? FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is a movie whose climax
we know is coming, and when it does it almost has the quality of
euthanasia. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is depicted in a few
deft strokes, but Zinnemann makes the excitement and terror palpable.
There are many who remember this film for its powerful love scene on
the beach between Lancaster and Miss Kerr, or maybe the barroom brawl
scene involving Clift, Borgnine, and Lancaster, or perhaps any of the
scenes at the New Congress Club, or Sinatra's final scene. Seeing this
one again for the umpteenth time, I found almost any scene in it
unforgettable. Maybe that's the definition of a great film.