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From Here To Eternity

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: From Here To Eternity

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Rated: NR
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: August 1953
Genres: Classic, Drama, War

*Also starring: Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, Claude Akins, George Reeves, Philip Ober, Mickey Shaughnessy

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Walter Frith read the review ---

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Hollywood was always treating film as an industry, but these days its products are becoming increasingly predictable. Few words about plot, names of the people involved and years of viewing experience - all that can enable you to predict general outlook and the overall quality of the movie. PEARL HARBOR, newest action spectacle by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, is the latest example, being mercilessly badmouthed even before the principal photography began. One of the reasons for such campaign is the fact that the film deals with the historical event already covered by Hollywood in previous decades. In two cases, such coverage produced classic films, awarded with "Oscars", and Bruckheimer is going to have huge problems matching their quality. While in the case of TORA! TORA! TORA! his project has some realistic chances of being better (at least in special effects department), only the bravest could predict PEARL HARBOR being in serious competition with FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, 1953 drama by Fred Zinnemann. This film was awarded with eight "Oscars", and its reputation of Hollywood classics was never in doubt, not even after few uninspired television remakes in 1970s and 1980s.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is based on the best-selling novel by James Jones, American author deeply influenced by his own experiences in US military at the Pacific Theatre in WW2. The plot is set in 1941, at the time when USA was still out of war. Young US Army private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (played by Montgomery Clift), former bugler, has been transferred into infantry unit, Company G. Its commander, Captain Holmes (played by Philip Ober) is boxing coach and he wants Prewitt, soldier with reputation of good middle-weight boxer, to fight in regimental boxing team; good results in boxing competition would ensure Holmes' promotion. Prewitt, deeply traumatised by the boxing accident that had left his friend blinded, is adamant that he wouldn't fight; Holmes responds by ordering his NCOs to make Prewitt's life in company miserable and thus make him to change his mind. The only NCO that doesn't take part in intimidation campaign is Sergeant Warden (played by Burt Lancaster), experienced, tough but fair career soldier who actually runs the company. Warden, however, has some flaws - one of them is lust towards Karen Holmes (played by Deborah Kerr), beautiful wife of Captain Holmes. He starts relationship with her, despite her reputation of "easy lay" and despite risking 20 years of military prison for adulterous affair with superior's wife. In the meantime, Prewitt is introduced to New Congress "social club" by his friend Private Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra) and there he falls in love with Alma a.k.a. Lorene (played by Donna Reed), one of the "hostesses". Their romance, as well as the destiny of all protagonists, would be affected with incoming Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was considered great in its time because it, among other things, dealt with some uncomfortable subjects previously ignored in Hollywood. Although screenwriter Daniel Taradash (later awarded with "Oscar" for his effort) took great pains to tone down or edit out all questionable material from 800-page book, the content of the film still looks brave for its time, breaking taboos by depicting the serial adultery, prostitution, rampant alcoholism and showing US military to be infested with corruption and incompetence. Because of that, producers were denied co-operation by US Army during the production, which was the first such incident in Hollywood-US military relations after WW2. The depiction of US Army in this film, as well as in the novel, is unflattering but historically accurate. Because of the widespread isolationist sentiments and notion of country being safe from invasion, US Army in the first years of WW2, unlike the Navy and Marines, was neglected - small, made out of soldiers who had enlisted only to escape poverty and never expected to earn their living in actual fighting, inexperienced and under-equipped in comparison with other great military powers of the time. When stationed in tropical tourist paradise, like the protagonist of this film, US military succumbed to hedonism and war came as really nasty surprise that made such shortcomings quite obvious.

The film, however, deals more with the shortcomings of characters than with the shortcomings of the institutions as a whole. Actually, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, like any good drama, doesn't feature perfect characters - almost any of them is affected with an affliction or character flaw. In order to portray that, Zinnemann had to rely on really good actors, and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was blessed with great acting talent. Montgomery Clift is grand as Private Prewitt, character whose pride and conviction, instead of being virtue, turns out to be the source of doom for him. That doom could be foreshadowed by the almost always-painful expression on Clift's face - his character, even when he looks happy, is constantly bothered with something. Burt Lancaster plays character that requires less acting ability, and more of his personal charisma; he is good acting choice for Sergeant Warden, though, since that character, despite being affected with unhealthy lust towards woman legally out of his reach, is the closest to the criteria of the conventional Hollywood hero. Those criteria are later met when Warden in the end of the film chooses duty (and Army as surrogate family) over marriage with Karen. Deborah Kerr is also great since the inner pains of her character provide good contrast with her physical attractiveness. The most interesting female role belongs to Donna Reed, who plays character very different from those who would later make her icons of 1950s values. The most memorable acting job was, of course, given by excellent Frank Sinatra in "Oscar"-awarded role of Private Maggio; his character, which initially looks like some kind of comic relief, later underlines the pessimistic, depressing atmosphere of the film with its tragic fate. Ernest Borgnine is also great in the memorable role of sadistic Sergeant "Fatso" Judson.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is a film that relies heavily on well-developed characters and superb actors playing them. Zinnemann focused film around them, and although his work in that regard was superb - especially the way he handles parallels between two movie romances - film is not visually attractive enough to be considered true masterpiece. Few action scenes in the end are well- done, as well as famous romantic beach scene (now overcliched, and very brave and erotic for its time), but the film is hurt by the use of black-and-white photography. Use of colour, together with more shots of the Hawaii countryside, would have provided effective contrast between heaven outside setting and hell inside movie's troubled protagonists. On the other hand, that lack of attraction won't prevent FROM HERE TO ETERNITY to remain true classic and very high standard for all future films dealing with Pearl Harbor.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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