Monday, 26 October 2015


“Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” - Herbert Hoover

We watched a film classic last weekend. It was the 1956 Fred Zinnemann movie, “From Here to Eternity” with a screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on James Jones’ novel and starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed and Ernest Borgnine. This was classic 1950s black and white Hollywood, with a star-studded cast and a plot that seemed to be made to please everyone.

The action takes place in Hawaii, in 1941. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift) has requested Army transfer and has ended up at Schofield in Hawaii. His new captain, Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), has heard of his boxing prowess and is keen to get him to represent the company. However, 'Prew' is adamant that he doesn't box anymore, so Captain Holmes gets his subordinates to make his life a living hell. Meanwhile Sergeant Warden (Lancaster) starts seeing the captain’s wife (Kerr), who has a history of seeking external relief from a troubled marriage. Prew’s friend Maggio (Sinatra) has a few altercations with the sadistic stockade Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson (Borgnine), and Prew begins falling in love with social club employee Lorene (Reed). Amidst all of this, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor will cause havoc and loosen in one way or another some of the plot knots.

The film is an ensemble piece for the cast with quite interesting parts for both leads and supporting actors. Many of the actors were cast against type, but it all works well and they are quite believable in their role. The film is essentially an army story, telling of the lives of soldiers in peacetime Hawaii before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is a fairly good description of army life then (and the film is of sociological and historical interest, if nothing else), and the relationships that it depicts are genuine and believable, even if the whole turns out to be a bit of a pot-boiler.

Most of all, the acting credits go to Montgomery Clift, in what possibly is the best role of his career. He plays the assertive, funny, tough, sensitive and charismatic soldier, the rebellious loner with the streak of nobility. James Dean idolised him after seeing his portrayal in this film.

This was “the” film of 1953, having won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, against a very strong field which also included “Roman Holiday”, “Julius Caesar” and “Shane”, as well as Best Director for Fred Zinnemann. Five of the cast were nominated and two of them, Donna Reed (Alma) and Frank Sinatra (Maggio) won. This was the film that made Sinatra a big star as an actor as well as a singer. It is interesting that Frank Sinatra took the Oscar, when I thought Clift clearly deserved one more than Sinatra did.

Overall, we enjoyed seeing this film, which despite its age engaged and interested us for its whole nearly two-hour duration. The two scenes that are memorable are legendary in moviemaking are quite diametrically different: Lancaster and Kerr rolling around and being passionate in the Hawaiian surf while a wave rushes over their bodies; and the other being the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, brief, and with multiple inserts of newsreel footage and shots from an earlier documentary by Gregg Toland, but exciting and well done. Well worth seeing this bit of Hollywood history…

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