#212) From Here to Eternity (1953)
OR “Swines Before Pearl”
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Daniel Taradash. Based on the novel by James Jones.
Class of 2002
The Plot: Based on James Jones’ experience with Hawaii’s 27th Infantry, “From Here to Eternity” is the story of intertwined lives at the Schofield Barracks in 1941 O’ahu. Private Robert “Prew” Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is transferred to Schofield due to his reputation as a middleweight boxer. Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) wants Prewitt to join the boxing team to get himself a promotion. Prewitt refuses, and Holmes makes life for Prewitt a living hell in the barracks. The only support Prewitt gets is from First Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) and fellow Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra). Along the way Prewitt falls for “hostess” Lorene (Donna Reed), while Warden has an affair with Holmes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr). But all this romance and drama is just the backdrop for a certain date at the end of 1941 which will live in infamy.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a lavish, star-studded blockbuster”, despite source material that is “unadaptable”. The write-up gives a plot recap and highlights “the famous lovemaking scene on the beach”.
But Does It Really?: The aforementioned beach scene is iconic enough to make the list but…that might be it. I don’t know, I just couldn’t get into this one. Perhaps its status as both “classic” and “Best Picture winner” builds it up too much, but “From Here to Eternity” is just fine. A well made film with good performances all around, but that’s about it. It took 14 rounds for “Eternity” to make the NFR cut, and it’s one of the few films to be dropped from the AFI’s Top 100, indicating that we all agree the film is above average, but not a bona-fide classic when compared to the others on the list.
Everybody Gets One: Despite a 40-year film career and six Oscar nominations, this is Deborah Kerr’s only NFR appearance. I suspect the argument for the inclusion of the increasingly insensitive “The King and I” is an uphill battle.
Title Track: No one says the title, but it comes from the Rudyard Kipling poem “Gentleman Rankers”: “Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree/damned from here to Eternity”.
Seriously, Oscars?: The mega-hit of 1953, “From Here to Eternity” led the pack with 13 nominations, and won eight, tying “Gone with the Wind” for the most Oscars ever. Among its win were Picture, Director for Fred Zinnemann, and the Supporting prizes for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. The Oscar wins for “From Here to Eternity” meant a virtual shut-out for fellow NFR entries “Shane” and “Roman Holiday”.
- Like many film adaptations of the time, liberties are taken with the source material. References to homosexuality, gonorrhea, and suicide are eliminated, as well as a few plot points altered to appease the U.S. Army.
- Wow, this is the fastest opening credits sequence I’ve seen in a while. They really want to get this film started.
- Nice trick shot, Monty. Where were you when they made “The Hustler”?
- I must say Scotland-born, England-raised Deborah Kerr is doing a decent American accent.
- Speaking of, in what universe is Deborah Kerr’s performance a lead performance? It’s clearly a key supporting turn. I suppose studio politics prevented a movie star from being in the Supporting Actress category.
- That’s Superman himself, George Reeves, as Sgt. Stark. Despite subsequent rumors, his role was not significantly cut after test audiences recognized him as the Man of Steel, leading to his depression and suicide. Every scene that Reeves filmed is in the final cut.
- Maggio asks Prewitt, “You got any prejudices against girls?” I’m not touching that one.
- That’s Ernest Borgnine in his first major film role as the antagonistic Sgt. “Fatso” Judson. He is definitely not playing the piano in his first scene.
- And now we get to the iconic beach scene. Romantic? Sure. But when has sex on a beach ever been a good, hygienic idea?
- There’s a point about halfway through the film where everybody stops and monologues their backstories. I’ve never been fond of that trope, but I guess for me that all started when I was a child. Life was simpler then, until one summer…
- Donna Reed is wonderfully cast against type in this film. Especially if all you know her from is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Deborah Kerr is also against type here, but most modern audiences only know her from this movie, so it doesn’t stick out as much as Reed’s work.
- When did Prewitt learn to play the bugle like that? From the sound of it, post-production.
- No knock against Sinatra’s performance, but he is aided by getting to play all the Oscar tropes: he plays drunk, he monologues, he’s sympathetic, and then…[Spoilers].
- Are there any native Hawaiians in this film? I suspect this movie isn’t a favorite of the Aloha State.
- This is another one of those classic movies that has a title song that does not appear anywhere in the film.
- Frank Sinatra: Act II
- James Jones wrote two more novels about his time in the Army during World War II: 1962’s “The Thin Red Line” and 1978’s “Whistle”. “The Thin Red Line” has been adapted into film twice, most memorably as the 1998 Terence Malick comeback vehicle.
- The novel was adapted into a TV miniseries in 1979 starring William Devane and Natalie Wood. It is slightly more faithful to the novel than this film. The success of the miniseries led to a short-lived TV series following the characters after the Pearl Harbor attack.
- The original novel of “From Here to Eternity” was censored by the publisher, and James Jones’ unedited version went unpublished until 2011. It is this version of the book that the Tim Rice musical is based on. The West End production received mixed reviews (most people were expecting something closer to film, which did not feature nudity, swearing, or gay subplots) and has yet to be seen since its original run.
- And of course, everyone has spoofed the beach scene, including “Airplane!”, despite the filmmakers claiming they have never seen “From Here to Eternity”.