"From Here to Eternity" racked up 13 Academy Award
nominations, and won five Oscars, including Best Picture,
Best Director (Fred Zinnemann, who had been nominated
the year before for "High Noon"), Best Screenplay
(Daniel Taradash) and Best B/W Cinematography (Burnett Guffey).
Winning the only Oscars of their careers were
Best Supporting Actor Frank Sinatra, and Best Supporting
Actress Donna Reed. Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster
were nominated for Best Actor, while Deborah Kerr picked
up a nomination for Best Actress.
Today, the film is best known for the beach scene
with Lancaster and Kerr, considered to be one of the
most romantic in screen history, and Sinatra's performance,
which rejuvenated his career.
The setting is Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, shortly before the
surprise Japanese attack began direct U.S. involvement
in World War II. Clift is a soldier and bugler who transfers
to a new regiment. A former middleweight boxer, he is pressured
by contemptible Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) to box for
the regiment. Clift refuses, and is harassed by Holmes
and the regiment's boxers. Clift's sole friend is Maggio
(Sinatra). Clift gets a girlfriend (Reed), who is a
'hostess' at a private club (in the novel, the club is
a whorehouse, while Reed's character is a prostitute).
Holmes' right hand man is Lancaster, a Sergeant who has
eyes for Holmes' unhappy wife (Deborah Kerr). Their affair
is illegal under Army rules and could land him in prison.
The much-lauded beach scene is not representative of
the Lancaster/Kerr romance, which is furtive and bitter.
The critical and commercial success of "From Here to
Eternity" is understandable. It is a good film, and it
has strong appeal for both men (war theme) and women
(romance theme). It appeals to American patriotism,
especially in the scene where heroic soldiers led by
Lancaster shoot down a Japanese bomber.
Essentially the film is a soap opera, with the dual
troubled romances of Clift/Reed and Lancaster/Kerr.
To increase sympathy for our romantic leads, Holmes'
character is selfish, cruel and philandering, while
Sinatra's tormentor Fatso (Ernest Borgnine) is a sadistic
bully. How much one appreciates the film is proportional
to one's sympathy for Clift and Lancaster, both of whom
are stubborn with self-destructive streaks. Some of
the dramatic scenes are manipulative and heavy-handed,
especially the various death scenes, Clift's fistfight,
and the come-uppance of Holmes and the regiment's boxers.
"From Here to Eternity" reminds me of "The Young Lions",
a film from 1957. Clift plays a very similar character,
a soldier forced to fight other soldiers, who gets the
girl, goes AWOL, and forces the premature retirement of
his Captain. In "The Young Lions", Dean Martin's
character merges the roles of Sinatra (Clift's friend)
and Lancaster (in refusing to get a promotion).
Since "The Young Lions" is the later film, one could
say that it ripped off "From Here to Eternity". But
"The Young Lions" is really an improvement, as it is
a much better film, probably due to the presence of
Copyright © 1995 Brian Koller