From Here to Eternity (1953)
Release Date: August 5th, 1953 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Fred Zinnemann Actors: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Philip Ober, Ernest Borgnine
et in 1941, Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) has just transferred from Virginia to the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, and meets up with buddy Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra). Prewitt was the top bugler at his previous base, but requested a new post for personal reasons. His Schofield captain, Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), wants him to box for their company – a division championship would get him a promotion – but Prewitt is only interested in staying with the outfit and assuming standard military duties.
Overconfident (or just brutally honest) First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) is intent on doing his job too, which is to please Holmes so that the senior officer can be left alone to properly command his troops. Warden also has his eyes on the captain’s wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr), a shapely blonde with an aura of idol-like unobtainability. In reality, she reciprocates the sergeant’s admiration.
Prewitt’s superiors begin giving him unfair treatment in an attempt to pressure him into embracing his pugilism roots. Angelo is the only one who will stand up for the meek career soldier and gets lumped into the punishments for his nobility. During a leave, the duo hits the town, where the bugler spies Alma “Lorene” Burke (Donna Reed), a New Congress Club girl whom he immediately falls for. Meanwhile, Warden runs off with Karen to the beach in the film’s most iconic moment (a risqué sequence the censors wanted completely cut). Karen deals with a soiled reputation for trying to contend with her marital troubles, while Prewitt similarly tries to bury his painful past, involving a feeling of responsibility for putting a rising boxing star in a coma. As personal relationships escalate and the company refuses to let up on Robert’s punitive persecution, Maggio winds up incarcerated in the stockade to face off with his belligerent nemesis, Sergeant of the Guard “Fatso” Judson (Ernest Borgnine), forcing Prewitt to finally challenge the system and lifestyle he revered so unfadingly.
“From Here to Eternity” is particularly interesting because it’s a World War II film that focuses almost entirely on behind-the-scenes soldier life – training, routines, camaraderie, rivalries, off-duty misadventures and romances, and putting the screws on a newcomer who values individuality over standard army assimilation. The attack on Pearl Harbor looms in the distance, but ultimately has little impact on the characters. The human drama in the midst of wartime procedures and rank politics is astounding, culminating in a complex, stirring, tragic finale that affirms a highly entertaining, thought-provoking film (despite heavy sanitization from the best-selling, controversial novel by James Jones).
It’s also unique in that it imparts a largely negative viewpoint of army methodologies. The love stories are strong, but the brutal revelations of military corruption are certainly more potent. The soldiers’ ties to the army, their loyalty, and their adoration (even when questionable tactics are exposed) eclipse any romantic interests. Blind devotion trumps all other emotions. It’s a compelling, influential notion that would later be explored in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Full Metal Jacket” (with much greater explicitness), and more recently, “The Hurt Locker.” Originally deemed unfilmable, “From Here to Eternity” went on to win eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was the last film to receive nominations in all four acting categories (Reed and Sinatra took home Oscars for their supporting roles).
– Mike Massie