From Here to Eternity (Rated PG, 118 minutes)
Now, there are a lot of movies about the bombing of Pearl Harbor: some have the event as the main story, while others have the event serving as the background action for the main plot. Either way, there have been good and bad movies made about the day that will live in infamy. But none, including Tora! Tora! Tora!,will ever be as good as the quintessential Pearl Harbor movie: From Here to Eternity. While the plot of the 1954 Best Picture winner does not focus on the events of Pearl Harbor, the island is an important character that drives the story until the inevitable bombing.
From Here to Eternity’s story follows two men: Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) and Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster). The months leading to Pearl Harbor, Private Prewitt is punished because he refuses to fight on the Captain’s boxing team; meanwhile, the Captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr) and Sergeant Warden are falling in love. On top of this, there are a ton of sub-plots that focus on Private Prewitt falling in love, Sergeant Warden helping out Prewitt, and even the hilarious high jinks of Private Angel Maggio (Frank Sinatra). As anyone can see, there is a lot of ‘moving parts,’ and if From Here to Eternity was mishandled, it could have been a convoluted mess; however, the drama’s near perfect writing, directing and acting results in it succeeding where most intricate films fail.
First and foremost, the chemistry between the leads elevates this film from really good to great; the way that Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra interact makes it feel like they were best friends off-screen. Also, the romance feels perfect because the two couples feel like real people and display a fantastic chemistry with one another: and even with Deborah Kerr as the weak link compared to Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, and Donna Reed, she almost perfectly plays the multi-layered damsel. Usually I am not a huge fan of romance in films because most are unable to get me emotionally connected; however, when Montgomery Clift’s Prewitt and Donna Reed ‘s Alma fight, the audience feels every piercing word they say to each other.
And the most famous scene of the movie, Deborah Kerr’s Karen and Burt Lancaster’s Warden kissing on the beach, is not as cheesy as I thought it would be. Perhaps it was the many times it was spoofed, but I thought the seemingly ridiculous scene would have my ‘eyes rolling;’ instead, I am treated with a delightful scene with emotional impact. And this is why From Here to Eternity succeeds where Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor does not: it properly displays a romance with the impending doom of war. And again, credit is necessary where credit is due; and even though the acting is phenomenal, the combination of writing and directing results in this being one of the most entertaining Best Picture winners I have seen thus far.
While the screenplay is based on the controversial James Jones novel, Daniel Taradash wrote a beautifully real, but at the same time, scathing story of the nation’s armed forces. Yes, this story eventually leads to Pearl Harbor, but this has to be one of the first movies to show an undiluted look at the military; the audience always remembers the heroes of Pearl Harbor, but this shows them in an unflattering light, which separates them from the propaganda and humanizes them. This is why Taradash’s script won Best Writing in 1954; he made a very contentious story relatable to the general public.
Finally, Frank Zinnemann’s direction results in a near visionary masterpiece, which has the best use of depth in a movie since Welles’ Citizen Kane. Frank Zinnemann fills up every shot with a depth of field that makes the viewer want to go back and re-watch scenes. For instance, there is a fight scene between Prewitt and Alma and while the fight is extremely interesting; I kept rewinding the scene to see what was going on in the background. On top of this, there are breathtaking shots during the Pearl Harbor invasion, where the audience witnesses several actions in one shot: in one scene, the first level has the soldiers attempting to get the weapons out of the locked inventory, the second depth level has the soldiers being killed in the courtyard and the final level has the planes flying over said courtyard. I was astonished by the depth, complexity, and vibrancy of this scene and the overall movie. Now as I previously said for the writer, Zinnemann deserved the Oscar he received for directing.
But with all the praise, there are key drawbacks that prevent From Here to Eternity from a perfect score. First, in certain parts the movie feels extremely dated: for example, the inability to label Alma a prostitute or to admit the club is a brothel. However, this inability is the product of the times; but it would have added an interesting variable to Prewitt and Alma’s relationship. Also, the knife fight between Prewitt and Ernest Borgnine’s character feels dated and sloppy. Yes, the fight attempts to hide the violence, which is another result of the time, but when compared to action today, this fight looks unrehearsed. And the sluggish way they move, results in the scene losing some of its emotional impact.
The last drawback is the problem with sound editing in several key scenes; for instance, the famous beach scene has several parts where the dialogue does not match up with the actor or actress’ mouth. On top of this, there are certain times where the dialogue had to have been changed during dubbing because the actual lines were completely different than the mouth movement. Now, this does not happen too much, but just enough to ruin a few vital scenes.
All the problems aside, this is a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed; this romance rightfully beat out the powerhouses Shane and Julius Caesar for Best Picture. The acting, directing, and writing meld together to form one of the realest interpretations of human contact portrayed on the big screen. And out of the forty-two Best Picture movies I have seen, this has easily jumped into my top five. Now only time will tell if it remains that high. But From Here to Eternity is a delight that remolds my thoughts on the romantic war genre: a genre that has worked on very few occasions.