From Here to Eternity (1953)
From Here to Eternity is a 1953 film that deals with themes of war, infidelity, murder and intimidation. The film frames its subject matter on a military base on the days preceding the Pearl Harbor attacks. Based on the controversial and rather explicit book by James Jones, From Here to Eternity is a classic film and was on AFI’s List of 100 Greatest Films before the American Film Institute’s latest revision, where its spot was replaced with Taxi Driver. Nonetheless, From Here to Eternity resonates in the annals of film history for a number of reasons.
The film follows a pair of stories that criss-cross during the duration. First, Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift, has requested an Army transfer and heads to a new location in Hawaii. There, he begins to be aggressively coerced to fight again on the Army boxing team. His new captain, Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), wants to put together the best boxing team he can so he tries everything to get Prewitt to join, including punishing him unfairly and treating him like scum.
Second, First Sergeant Milton Warden, played by Burt Lancaster, begins an affair with Captain Holmes’ wife (Deborah Kerr). Things begin to spiral out of control as the Sergeant learns more about Karen Holmes and her history of seeking refuge from her troubled marriage. The pair fall in love, however. Third, Prewitt’s friend Maggio (Frank Sinatra), begins to experience a hellish reality of his own as he is tortured by a sadistic stockade Sergeant. Throughout all of this, Prewitt begins to fall in love with a girl from a social club. Oh, and Pearl Harbor is looming right around the corner.
From Here to Eternity won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), Best Director (Frank Zinnemann), and Best Screenplay. Zinnemann’s film attempts to capture a complicated and dangerous novel in Jones’ work and it succeeds at presenting the often chaotic and explicit life in the Army as the characters intertwine and encounter one another in steamy situation after steamy situation. The sexuality smoulders, the violence is captivating and yet subdued and the danger of the looming attacks on Pearl Harbor make for an interesting ticking time bomb situation that resonates through the whole film.
The film is essentially about frustration. Prewitt is frustrated because of the situation he is thrust into and there is an air of hopelessness about his being aggressively pursued to fight again in a boxing ring. There is an air of hopelessness in his situation about being in love with a girl whose job it is to please other men at a social club. With Warden, the situation is the same.
Hopelessness and frustration are the themes to his relationship with the captain’s wife, as they continue to enter the throes of a physical relationship (including the famous “beach scene”) and yet can’t quite put the pieces together to be as in love as they want to be. It is a film about yearning and wanting things to be different, but not having the tools to create a difference. Even Maggio is locked in the hopelessness of his own tortured spiral of alcohol and violence.
The performances are good, with perhaps Sinatra being the best of the bunch and Burt Lancaster running a close second. The women are smouldering with passion and desire, just waiting to be swept off of their feet and the men seem inept and unable to do so. Montgomery Clift is easily in the best film of his career, too, as he lays the framework for a passionate portrayal of Prewitt.
The script is relatively good, although certainly not the smartest I’ve seen and the end results of the composition of the film left it feeling somewhat incomplete. Still, From Here to Eternity is a classic film about the frustrations of life when we can’t get exactly what we want. It is a smouldering, steaming pile of energy that winds up and winds down on the screen, but then ends without so much as a sizzle.