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USA 1953
Directed by
Fred Zinnemann
104 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

From Here To Eternity

From Here to Eternity, based on a best-selling novel by James Jones, was a huge hit in its day taking home eight Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Fred Zinnemann, thus matching the record tally until then held by Gone With The Wind (1939).  With memories of the American sacrifice and triumph in WWII still relatively fresh in audiences’ minds however the accolades seem to have been driven much more by sentiment than the actual merits of the film, which looked at from today’s perspective are relatively few.

Set at an Army barracks in Hawaii in the days shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the story focuses on bugler and boxing champion "Prew" Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) who has been transferred to a new division headed by Capt. Holmes (Philip Ober) an ambitious career soldier who wants Prew to be his No. 1  boy in the ring.  When Prew steadfastly refuses to put on the gloves, Holmes tries to break him down with a brutal series of punishments a.k.a. “The Treatment”.  Meanwhile the tough-but-fair Division Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) engages in an affair with the captain's estranged wife (Deborah Kerr)

Whilst perhaps in its day this portrait of army life looked quite realistic (the book apparently was more confrontational than the film), its depiction of the institutionalized machismo of military life with its neat division into good (Prew, Sgt Warden and Frank Sinatra’s Maggio et al.) and bad (Holmes, Ernest Borgnine’s “Fatso” and assorted bullies), and its ultimate affirmation of manly American virtues and the American army) is too coyly contrived to convince (the first half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, 1987, provides a modern benchmark for this sort of thing).

Aside from that, there are problems in the form of the casting of the chronically anxious Montgomery Clift as a “hard-head” pugilist (Paul Newman would have been an infinitely better choice). Frank Sinatra is equally incongruous and more caricatural, his career-reviving Best Supporting Male Oscar win notwithstanding (Donna Reed won a Best Supporting female Oscar but, like Sinatra, more for her against-type character than anything particularly impressive about her performance).

What gives the film a lift is the presence and performances of Burt Lancaster and the, once again, against-type, Deborah Kerr, their screen romance have a level of credibility which otherwise the film lacks and their passionate clinch in the pounding surf being a “classic movie moment” (and apparently Lancaster’s idea).

Take away the historically-grounded sympathy and the film does not have a lot to offer, coming across as an overlong depiction of a not-too-bright G.I. (who manages to get himself killed during the Pearl Harbour attack) locked into a senseless routine with a gaggle of brawling blue-collar Neanderthals, that gradually builds into a hot-bed of homo-eroticism, leaving us with a John Wayne-ish hero (Warden) who loves the Army so much that he prefers it to love with an intelligent and beautiful woman.  Make of that what you will (apparently the book has some homosexual scenes, none of which made it to the film version)!

FYI: The title comes from Rudyard Kipling's 1892 poem "Gentlemen-Rankers", about soldiers of the British Empire who had "lost [their] way" and were "damned from here to eternity".




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