From Here to Eternity is a classic Oscar type movie. You hear the description and you can immediately tell that this is movie is a Great Sweeping Epic That Wins Awards. With a lot of big names and a serious subject, I was expecting From Here to Eternity to be better than it was. It’s not really a bad film, I just thought that it wasn’t as good as I was lead to believe and the story wasn’t as important to me as the film seemed think it should be.
The film takes place in Hawaii, where Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) has just been transferred and demoted to a private. He tells the captain, Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), that it was because somebody got promoted over him and took his place as first bugler, which is a lie as everyone can tell. He lets it go, because the more pressing matter is getting Prewitt to box for the unit’s team. He flat out refuses to do it, and since it’s like an extra-curricular activity (extra-military?) Holmes can’t really force him. Because he can’t order him to box, he decides to pressure him by treating him worse than all the other soldiers until he agrees.
Meanwhile, Holmes’ home life really sucks. He cheats on his wife Karen (Deborah Kerr) like there’s no tomorrow and she’s not too happy about living with him still. He won’t let them get a divorce because he’s really obsessed with his career and thinks a divorce will cost him the promotion he wants. This promotion is the reason he’s trying to get Prewitt to box as well; he thinks that if his superiors notice he has the best boxing team he’ll get promoted. Anyway, when Karen comes looking for Holmes at the base on day, she runs into his right hand man Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) and they eventually get together. This puts Warden in danger of going to prison, because I guess they give out twenty year sentences for screwing around with your superior’s wife. Karen comes up with a plan that will allow them to be together: Warden is going to become an officer and get transferred back to the mainland, and Karen is going to get her divorce somehow and follow him once he is transferred. That way no one will necessarily know that they were already together when Karen was married. Warden doesn’t want to do it though, because he has this thing about not wanting to be like Holmes which he feels will happen if he becomes an officer. He feels bad about how Holmes is treating Prewitt and tries to help him out as much as possible.
Meanwhile (I’m going to be saying that a lot this post), there’s yet side story that features Prewitt falling in love with a girl that works at a nightclub, Alma (Donna Reed). He wants to get married, but Alma’s a real snob and she doesn’t want to get married to a lowly private, or anybody in the military for that matter. But of course, she doesn’t tell him this up front because she senses that he loves her and she’s sick and tired of being lonely. Then he gets all mad when she doesn’t want to marry him, and maybe if I had cared about the characters more this would have been interesting. Prewitt says he will fight and thereby probably get a promotion if that would make her marry him, but she says no and still expects him to hang around with her, which is ridiculous if you ask me.
I promise this is the last time I will say “meanwhile.” Meanwhile, Prewitt’s buddy Private Maggio (Frank Sinatra) is in a spot of trouble with Sergeant Judson (Ernest Borgnine) or “Fatso” as everyone calls him behind his back. They get into at the nightclub, and Warden is able to break it up, but there is still a very strong animosity between them. Another weekend, Maggio has to stay behind to guard instead of going into town because the guy who was supposed to guard got sick. He sneaks out anyway, which gets him court martialed and thrown in jail. This really sucks for him because it puts him at the mercy of Fatso, who is the commander in charge there and uses the opportunity to beat him senseless and stick him in solitary for no reason other than he hates his guts.
I think the main point of From Here to Eternity is people not wanting to sacrifice their identities for anyone or anything else, which is admirable up to a point. After watching about half of this point hammered home with every single character, I just got to thinking that everybody in this story was just really stubborn and nothing was going to happen. Nobody was going to change their ways and we were just going to be hopelessly stalemated the whole time, which is basically what happened. Alma doesn’t want to give up her dream of moving back to the mainland and marrying some rich guy and being all respectable, Prewitt wants to stay in the army without having to box, Maggio doesn’t want to stay behind or submit to Fatso, Karen doesn’t want to live with her husband, and Warden doesn’t want to be an officer. Nobody really gets what they want completely, and the films ends up with the war starting and most people ending up dead or miserable because they didn’t get what they wanted.
The only story line I fully sympathized with was Maggio’s, and that’s probably because it was Old Blue Eyes being kind of a goofball and I liked it. He was this short scrawny private that thought he could take on anybody, which eventually got him into trouble but also made him really endearing. Also at the beginning of the film I didn’t think he was going to get his own story because he seemed just like a comic relief character. He did which surprised me; I thought we were just going to be focused on all the relationship drama but I’m glad we could get sidetracked from that because I really wasn’t feeling it at all. I’m not sure if it’s because we didn’t spend a whole lot of time with each couple, but I’m thinking that’s it because I was slightly more interested in Alma and Prewitt until Alma turned out to be a snob. By then I just wanted Prewitt to dump her already because she was not worth it. I think more time was spent on that romance, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.
Despite being slightly less interesting to me, the romance between Warden and Karen is where the iconic moment of the film comes from. You know that scene where the man and the woman are kissing on the beach and the waves are pounding on the shore? That’s this movie. Honestly, I found that scene to be kind of a let down. That part you always see is just about all there is to it. They go down to the beach, take their clothes off, they run into the water, then we cut to something else (can’t remember what at the moment), and then we cut back to The Famous Scene. There’s hardly any build up at all, and the only build up we get is interrupted by cutting away to a different story line. I felt like it lost momentum going into it. Maybe Zinnemann thought it would be such a big deal that he wouldn’t need to build it up, but I would have been more involved if he had. Their whole romance just sort of happened, and I wasn’t buying it or The Famous Scene. I agree that scene is pretty good when you put it in a different context though. For example when Jeff Bridges is watching it on the tv in Star Man and it’s like he’s seeing people kiss for the first time or something. I like it there better than in the actual film it’s from.
I can definitely see why the Academy would pick From Here to Eternity as best picture back in ’53, but I honestly don’t agree. Though I haven’t seen any of the rest of the nominees, I have to think that Julius Caesar with James Mason as Brutus and Marlon Brando as Mark Antony would have to be better right? (Don’t worry I’ll be reviewing that eventually.) Even if it’s not, in my opinion this is one of the films that probably everybody was crazy about at the time that just doesn’t get people going like it used to. Judging by how famous that scene is at least, I’m probably wrong, but that’s how I saw the film anyway. From Here to Eternity was nominated for a whopping thirteen awards: best picture, best director, two best actors, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best adapted screenplay, editing, cinematography, original score, sound recording, and costume design. Out of the thirteen it won eight: best picture, best director, best supporting actress for Reed, best supporting actor for Sinatra, cinematography, editing, adapted screenplay, and sound recording. Everybody was psyched about this film back in the day, it seems.
“A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothing.”