The absolutely abysmal offerings at the local theaters have driven me back to my 10 File for this week’s review. For one of the greatest films ever made, we go back 63 years to 1953, when “From Here to Eternity” first graced the silver screen. Based upon James Jones’ sprawling bestselling novel of the same name, this ageless classic earned 13 Academy Award nominations in 1954 and won eight, including Best Picture, Best Director (Fred Zinnemann), Best Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), and Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed).
The film is at set on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1941 shortly before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the story begins when Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) requests a transfer to a rifle company at Schofield Barracks, where the commanding officer is Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Philip Ober). When Holmes learns that Prewitt, in addition to being a superb bugler (His playing “Taps) will make you weep.), is an outstanding middleweight boxer, he wants him to join the boxing team in his regiment to help him get a promotion.
Prewitt, however, wants no part of boxing because he had seriously injured his sparring partner a year ago. Prewitt’s refusal to join the boxing team infuriates Holmes so much that he orders the men under his command to subject Prewitt to unreasonable treatment. Finally, a sergeant named Galovitch (John Dennis) pushes Prewitt too far, and the two of them engage in a fistfight in which there is no clear winner.
After the fight, Holmes orders Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) to begin court martial proceedings against Prewitt, but Warden convinces the captain to make Prewitt join the boxing team by increasing his punishment within the company. All of the other soldiers then gang up on Prewitt with the exception of Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), who becomes his close friend.
In addition to the trouble Prewitt is causing him, Holmes must deal with his stunningly beautiful wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr), who has been known to stray from time to time in response to her husband’s constant infidelity. Now she becomes attracted to Warden, and the two of them begin an affair that could destroy his Army career.
In the meantime, Prewitt and Maggio visit a high-class brothel where Prewitt ends up falling for one of the “hostesses” named Lorene (Donna Reed), and this becomes another subplot as does Maggio’s unfortunate involvement with Sgt. James R. “Fatso” Judson (Ernest Borgnine), an obnoxious and bellicose ass who is overly impressed with himself. This relationship ultimately turns quite nasty for Prewitt as well as for Maggio and Fatso.
“From Here to Eternity” is one of those “they-just-don’t-make-them-like-that-anymore” films rife with superior direction and acting, bittersweet romance, riveting drama, and overwhelming pathos. Additionally it’s a masterful adaptation of Jones’ monumental novel.
Anyone who has seen the film knows that its signature scene is the one in which Lancaster and Kerr, entwined in each others’ arms, are rolling around in the waves on the beach. It isn’t an understatement to say this is one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema because of its daring eroticism for the time. Of course it’s tame by today’s standards, but back in the 1950s it was incredibly risqué, and the chemistry between Kerr and Lancaster in this scene is hot enough to make ocean boil.
Kerr is one of the classiest actresses who ever lived, and she appeared in more than 50 films including such classics as “The King and I,” “Tea and Sympathy,” “Separate Tables,” and “An Affair to Remember.” Prior to making “From Here to Eternity,” the Scottish-born actress had been known for playing the parts of prim and proper ladies, but in an interview before her death at age 86 in 2007 she spoke about her role as Karen.
“Playing the part of Karen Holmes in ‘From Here to Eternity,’ over and above the famous love scene on the beach, which had never been done before and which is still I think one of the most erotic scenes that you can get. Take all your movies in which they’ve all got all their clothes off, and it isn’t in the least as sort of curiously exciting in a very subtle and very erotic manner. It was a terrific scene, and Zinnemann directed it marvelously, and Burt was wonderful in it, and the setting was great, of course, but it kind of broke that cast or mold for me.”
The fact that the film won eight of the 13 Oscars for which it was nominated is a fitting tribute to its overall brilliance. In addition to Kerr and Lancaster, the performances by Clift, Reed, Sinatra, Borgnine, and everyone else are consistently flawless. As I watched it again (I have no idea how many times I’ve seen it.), I marveled at how refreshing it was to watch a film driven completely by the characters instead of special effects.
Of course the bombing of Pearl Harbor is among the final scenes in the film, and they are absolutely riveting. As many times as I have watched this movie, seeing those Japanese planes coming in still gives me chills, and these scenes add a final exclamation point to the fact that this movie is a masterpiece.
If you’ve never seen “From Here to Eternity,” look it up on Netflix and treat yourself. And if you have seen it, do the same thing. This one never gets old, and its superiority definitely will last for all eternity.