Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Savant has also reviewed the Superbit DVD of this title.
James Jones' drama of life for the Army on Oahu just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor is one
of the best remembered postwar American movies. Columbia Pictures and Fred Zinnemann
succeeded in bringing what was considered an unfilmable novel to the screen in a way that
satisfied the toughest fans of the book; not since Gone with the Wind had a literary
adaptation won such unanimous approval. From Here to Eternity had sex, violence, great
acting, and an unkillable story about an event that every American alive considered central to his or her life.
Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers to Schofield barracks, where
the sports-minded C.O. Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) allows the non-coms to harrass him for
refusing to step back into the boxing ring. Under wearying punishments and humiliations, Prewitt
finds time to make friends with the amiable but foolish Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), another
potential stockade bird who makes the mistake of getting on the wrong side of Sgt. of the Guard
Judson (Ernest Borgnine). The tough but inwardly sympathetic First Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster)
manages to get Prewitt some passes into Honolulu, where he meets and falls in love with a 'hostess'
at the New Congress Club, Lurene (Donna Reed). Prewitt's a hard case who just can't make things
easy for himself, says Warden, even though Warden's foolishly pursuing an affair with his own commander's wife,
Karen (Deborah Kerr). As December 7 approaches, it's unclear who will still be in the service, or
still be alive, to serve when the country goes to war.
From Here to Eternity not only gained the approval of the country at large, but had the
endorsement of members of the armed forces who remembered how things were between the
wars. The U.S. Army was still called the Jock Strap Army, because the depression had made
willing recruits so numerous that the various corps could pick and choose their enlistees, and
often did so on the basis of what would best fill out their interservice sports programs.
Undersupplied and undertrained, and just marking time until the country needed them again,
the enlisted men of even a beautiful outpost like Hawaii were treated like 5th-class
citizens, unwelcome when on leave, and barely tolerated when on duty. Visit Hawaii now and
you'll be astounded at how much of Oahu is set aside for military use. The colonial-concrete
buildings and barracks seen in From Here to Eternity still stand, many purposely
left pockmarked with battle damage as a reminder of the infamous attack.
For the Columbia Pictures, this is a monumental production. Using top talent, and mostly shot in
Hawaii, the atmosphere of the beautiful islands comes through, even in black and white. A hot
director thanks to High Noon, Zinnemann got his way on most of the creative decisions,
especially the casting of Montgomery Clift, who is particularly brilliant as Prewitt, the hot
bugler who doesn't know how to bend when he's being wronged. This might be the first Burt Lancaster
role that isn't in a Burt Lancaster vehicle; he's truly good here, restrained from all of his
action-movie histrionics, even though he does pop his characteristic grin every so often. Whether
it was Zinnemann or not, somebody had the smart idea of casting two bonfide ladies to play the
strumpet of an officer's wife, and the whore. Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed had reputations so elevated,
the censors let them alone. The New Congress Club isn't much like it was portrayed in the book,
but it's obviously no church social either.
This is of course the Frank Sinatra role that was said to be given him by mob pressure, probably
a Hollywood myth. Joan Crawford supposedly had the Karen Holmes role sewn up, but blew it by making
early demands and getting herself booted by a volatile Harry Cohn. She'd have been just the obvious
sexpot who would have made the censors get picky with script.
The most amazing thing about From Here to Eternity is how darned efficient it is. In under
two hours, you feel as if the entire scope of the book has been covered. Daniel Taradash's
perfect adaptation knows just how to pace the scenes and what parts could be ellipsed: my parents,
watching it on television once, thought they remembered a scene where Ernest Borgnine really did
beat up on Sinatra. Maggio being brought before the sadistic Sergeant Judson is staged so well,
it makes one picture the beating so clearly ...
Zinnemann just shows two lovers in the surf and is able to suggest hot sex in three cuts and an
embrace, and yet get it by the censor. The knife fight in the alley is very realistic for the
time, and also untouched by the blue scissor boys. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is sketched with
just a few angles near the barracks, newsreels, and stock shots from John Ford's Navy films of WW2,
which featured a few
re-creations of the attack. Honolulu is represented by the clock tower by the main wharf, and the view
of Diamond head from a walkway where you can still sit just where Lancaster did. How drunken and
half-beaten soldiers are able to sneak from Honolulu to and from Schofield is something of a
mystery, seeing as how they have to be 20 miles distant from one another.
Even though this was a 1953 film, the majority of the cast wasn't given screen billing. Memorable
bits are covered by the likes of Claude Akins (one of the noncom boxers) Willis Bouchey & Carleton
Young (colonels), George "Superman" Reeves (a sergeant friend of Warden), both Alvin and Jopeph
Sargent, and the irrepressible Joan Shawlee (The Apartment) as a good-time girl. Somewhere in there
as well is John Veitch, who later became the head of production at Columbia. A real veteran of Iwo
Jima, we used to look at him in awe.
I'm not sure if there's a direct connection, but the conflict of personalities between Warden and Prewitt
in this story is so much like those between the AWOL hero of
The Thin Red Line and the sergeant played by
Sean Penn, that I can't help but link the two stories, and the four characters together. Time to go
search for some pocketbooks and find out what James Jones is really like in print...
Columbia/Tristar's DVD of From Here to Eternity looks fine, although I'm confused by the film's
aspect ratio. 1953-55 were the years of AR confusion, what with formats breaking out left and right
like cases of ... the measles. The best way to tell what aspect ratio was intended is to look at the
opening credits, to see what shape the title text blocks follow. Here the main titles matte perfectly
well on a 1:78 16:9 monitor, but when the show starts, it's definitely 1:37, no mistake. Fox cable
television shows a CinemaScope promo filler that has a shot of a lobby display for From Here to Eternity
that says 'now in widescreen' or something to that effect ... Savant is just guessing when he says that
perhaps the titles were reshot for 1:66, and found their way back onto the flat feature later when
transfer copies were made.
The transfer is just fine, clean, with particularly clear sound. Two little featurettes are included,
that between them show the sexy beach scene about 4 times, which is three times too many. The bits of
interview material with Zinnemann are welcome, but the two cuts are unsatisfying, relying on arbitrarily
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
From Here to Eternity rates:
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: November 1, 2001
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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