Tuesday, 7 April 2015

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Herfra Til Evigheden
With ”From Here to Eternity” I am starting to get into known territory. This is a movie I have seen before and I remember it as being good. That was years ago, before I had even considered this project. Would it hold up now, years later?

The answer is a resounding YES.

It is difficult to compete with the rose tinted patina of fond memories, but this time I have the advantage of being deeply immersed in the movie scene of the period. I can see how superior this movie is to most, if not all, other contemporary movies. This movie is an achievement on almost every account and its 8 Academy awards (and a stack of nominations) is testament to that.

“From Here to Eternity” is taking place on ground zero for that historic day, December 7th 1941, where Pearl Harbor was attacked and so it is easy to conclude that this is the story of that event. That is however not the case. Yes, Pearl Harbor gets bombed in the last ten minutes of the movie, but that is merely a backdrop for the real story, an accentuation of the environment and a feeling that the events told takes place at a turning point in history.

It is even difficult to put a finger on exactly what is the story. This is an ensemble movie that follows a number of soldier stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii. Their stories are intertwined but somewhat different although they have that in common that they are all about personal integrity.

Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) has transferred into the unit after some trouble in his previous unit. He is a first class bugler (the dude in an outfit that blows the horn), but to company commander Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) he is first of all the boxer his company needs for the upcoming competition. Trouble is Prewitt does not want to fight. Since he K.O’ed his boxing friend and brain damaged him he has refused to box. Holmes as the first class assholes he is, lets his dogs loose on him and gives him hell to force him in to joining the boxing team. Prewitt stoically endures the harassment, but is ironically undone by another fight.

Maggio (Frank Sinatra) is a jovial private in the company who immediately befriends Prewitt. He loves life and party hard and in that process makes an enemy of Sergeant “Fatso” Judson (Ernest Borgnine). He is unfortunately the warden of the stockade so when Maggio as a result of his partying (leaving guard duty to go on a binge) is sent to the stockade he is in for a hard treatment. He refuses to bent, much like Prewitt, but to a vengeful sadist like Fatso that is just an invitation to cruelty and he ends up killing him.

Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) is the assistant of Captain Holmes. It is he who in actuality runs the company since Holmes is mostly absent. Warden takes an awful lot of pride in his job and is the epitome of the army sergeant, the personified backbone of the army. At the outset he encourage Prewitt to give in to the pressure to box, but gradually he gets to respect Prewitt and the two of them becomes fast friend. This perfect soldier is however himself challenged. He falls in love with Captain Holmes pretty and promiscuous wife Karen (Deborah Kerr), which in itself is a big no-no, but he also finds himself being hypocrite of the year when is accusing her of her promiscuity, although it is that which enabled them to be together in the first place and is peanuts compared to his own transgression.

Each of these characters have to make decisions on who they are and what they believe is right and then stand by them in the face of adversity. Those are fairly big existential questions but the movies handles it beautifully. This never gets dry or theoretical, but remain all the way through interesting and relevant. It is one of those movies where time flies and all too soon you are at the end despite it being almost two hours long.

A lot of it has to do with the acting. This is a beautifully cast movie. Lancaster is spot on. Clift may not seem like your typical boxer, but he has that fifties rebellious youth about him that tells us he can be a bad boy if he wants to. Sinatra of course is a party boy as there ever was any.

The girls are a lot more than the accessory items they are made out to be. Both Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes and Donna Reed as the dance hall prostitute have agendas of their own and will get there with or without their men. I hardly mentioned Reed, but she does have a fairly complex role as Prewitt’s girl. Is she the temptress Eve or the mother he never had? Or maybe she is just using him to fulfill her own dream of respectability?

The movie covers a lot of ground, involves a lot of characters and is fairly complex, but it all ties up in the end, though not with the traditional Hollywood happy end. It is sad but satisfying and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seems a well-chosen metaphor for the scythe swiping through the characters of this story. They all lose something for standing up for their integrity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It deserves all the accolade it got and I know I will get back to it frequently. Unless the rest of the decade blows me away completely I just know this one will make my top ten of the fifties.


  1. It's been awhile for me and your review makes me eager to get back to it. Don't know why but the performance that sticks most in my memory is Borgnine's.

    1. Bognine reminded me of something and I bet it is a memory from previous viewings of the movie. He is a striking actor. Watch it again, it is worth it.

  2. I saw this quite a few years back and I remember liking it.

    1. I do not think this is a movie that fades easily from memory. Considering how long ago I saw it last I was surprised at how much I remembered.