The One about Fred Zinneman’s “From Here to Eternity”

Back in 1951, American author James Jones’ novel “From Here to Eternity” was released.

Loosely based on his life as part of Company E of the Hawaiian’s Division’s 27th Infantry, the novel would win the National Book Award and would receive the distinction as one of the “Best Novels of the 20th Century” by the Modern Library Board.

Two years later, the film adaptation directed by Fred Zinneman (“High Noon”, “A Man for All Seasons, “The Day of the Jackal”) and a screenplay by Daniel Taradash (“Picnic”, “Bell Book and Candle”, “Hawaii”).

The film would star Burt Lancaster (“Judgment at Nuremberg”, “Atlantic City”, “Airport”), Montgomery Clift (“A Place in the Sun”, “Red River”, “I Confess”), Frank Sinatra (“Manchurian Candidate”, “A Hole in the Head”), Deborah Kerr (“The King and I”,”The Innocents”, “Black Narcissus”) , Donna Reed (“The Donna Reed Show”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Last Time I Saw Paris”) and Philip Ober (“North by Northwest”, “Come Back, Little Sheba”).

The film received rave reviews from film critics and the film would win eight of its 13 Academy Award nominations including “Best Picture”, “Best Director”, “Adapted Screenplay”, “Supporting Actor” and “Supporting Actress”).

The film would be selected by the United States Library of Congress for it being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

They called the film “controversial”, critics said of the film as being “fantastic”. “From Here to Eternity” is a film that captivates you because it’s not your typical American war film about US bravado during World War II (there is a little of that towards the end).

But watching the film closely and no matter how many times you watch it, you start to understand that the film is about its characters, who are somewhat flawed.

But also how daring this film was for taking a controversial book that didn’t portray the military as heroic or clean but showing flaws and also how some are mistreated in the military.

While loosely based on James Jones novel, the fact that Jones served in Oahu during World War II and wrote a book based on his experiences, showcasing mistreatment in the military, affairs, prostitution, this was against America’s squeaky clean image of Hollywood at the time, but Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn pursued the film and released it.

And as for its flawed characters, the fact that this film has amazing star talent adds to the film’s legacy.

Burt Lancaster plays First Sergeant Milton Warden, a man who wants to be promoted but wants to do it the right way. But when he falls in love and has an affair with his superior’s wife, he knows he is engaged in a relationship in which he is often hiding and knowing he and the other woman can never be happy.

For Montgomery Clift as Private E. Lee Prewitt, he is an independent man that loves the Army, loves being a soldier but the problem is that his superior wants him to be a boxer in his regiment and so, they make life difficult for him by faulting him for everything and making him do hard labor until he decides to relent and box for the regiment.

Deborah Kerr plays the disenchanted wife of Captain Dana Holmes. Karen is a woman who has lived a life of unhappiness due to her husband’s cheating but also because of the fact that she is unable to give birth. But she found love with another man, First Sgt. Milton Warden. It’s important to note that Deborah Kerr has never played a role so sexy let alone a character having a sexual affair, it was against the usual type of character that she often played in Hollywood which made no doubt made a lot of press.

Frank Sinatra plays the often drunken, often in trouble Private Angelo Maggio. An Academy Award winning role that would no doubt bring the singer better roles in later years.

Donna Reed plays Alma “Lorene” Burke who is a woman who works at a Gentleman’s Club (as a prostitute) and falls in love with Prewitt but at the same time, is not so thrilled that he is a soldier. Also, another role for Reed, used to playing sweet characters, playing a prostitute in the film.

With multiple characters with their own flaws, the film adaptation is able to showcase these individuals as real characters as many American war films tend to showcase their characters as heroic. While “From Here to Eternity” showcased soldiers who are flawed, imprisoned and troubled. Not glamorous or special, but showcasing characters in a real sense.

The casting for this film is spectacular, the fact that so many stars are featured in this film is amazing.

The film holds up 50-years-later because the film is less about the war and its efficacy lies in the fact that it’s a film that took risks. From a passionate kissing scene to flawed characters, this was a film that was considered as not possible to make into a film because of the adultery, prostitution and other subjects that were not discussed in the early ’50s.

“From Here to Eternity” is an American classic that is highly recommended!


 

Dennis A. Amith