Sony // 1953 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 1st, 2013
Romance on the beach. Sort of.
Private Robert Prewitt (Montgomery Clift, The Misfits) has been transferred to Schofield Barracks off one of Hawaii's picturesque islands. His reasoning for requesting the transfer? Prewitt is an expert bugler who got passed over for a lesser musician at his last outfit. However, the barrack's captain doesn't have half as much interest in Prewitt's bugling skills as much as his fighting prowess; Prewitt's skills in the ring are what catch the eye of Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober, North by Northwest) and his second in command, Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster, Judgment at Nuremberg). Prewitt doesn't want to step back in the ring and is cruelly pressured by the other soldiers, often forced to dig ditches and run laps when he won't comply. His only solace seems to be a fellow buddy, Maggio (Frank Sinatra, The Man With the Golden Arm) and a lovely bar girl, Alma (Donna Reed, It's a Wonderful Life), who catches Prewitt's eye. At the same time, Warden begins a tumultuous affair with Captain Holmes' wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr, The King and I), which could bring about more trouble than it's worth. With the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor looming ever present, the fate of each character will come to a head in a powerful and provocative final reel.
I'm sure From Here to Eternity has been dissected to death over the last 60 years. The 1953 Best Picture winner (along with seven other Academy Awards) has become as beloved as the iconic image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing on a surf swept beach. I have zero history with this film. It wasn't something I saw as a child, nor had I sat through it during my adult years (until last night). I come to this with fresh eyes to judge it on its own terms.
For some reason, I feared it to be an old, stodgy "classic" that would drag on endlessly for two hours. I'm not sure why. It could be my preconceived opinion was shaped by the familiar cover art, which makes the movie look like a sweeping romance ala The English Patient. What I wasn't prepared for was a relatively simple story (told in the most complex of ways) about soldiers being manipulated by their superiors, adulterous affairs, and tragedy that hits at a fast and alarming rate. In short, From Here to Eternity was a completely different (and better) experience than I was expecting.
I was fully absorbed from beginning to end. The story of Private Prewitt and his bullying from the bunks and barracks of the US army made for a tense and fascinating film. One can easily see the influence on writer Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men, which deals with similar themes of military hazing and abuse by both the upper and lower ranks. Private Prewitt endures all forms of punishment, from physical abuse and humiliating tasks to verbal slings by his fellow officers, all because he doesn't want to get into the boxing ring to help them win the upcoming championship. Montgomery Clift (who died far too early from a heart attack at age 46) had a rare screen quality akin to that of James Dean; his eyes smolder with hurt and secret pain, making his character that much more mysterious and impacting. Frank Sinatra -- who is always hard to see as anyone but the iconic blue eyed singer -- does a fine job as Private Maggio, Prewitt's buddy in the barracks. Sinatra's Maggio may be short with a lanky frame, but his inner strength comes shining through, especially when he has to put up with a brutally mean stockade officer (Ernest Borgnine, in a small but menacing role).
Other actors also shine. Lancaster's Sergeant Warden seems to have a decent core, but is tested when he begins an illicit affair with his commanding officer's wife, and goes along with Captain Holmes' underhanded orders to "persuade" Prewitt into joining the boxing team. Deborah Kerr is at first icy cold in the role, but begins to warm up as Warden's affections become apparent. The relationship isn't a typical movie love story, as each character must come to terms with what it would mean -- both positive and highly negative -- for the couple to be together. One of my favorite characters was easily Donna Reed's fragile Alma, a woman who has never found what she's been searching for and thinks it resides in her Ohio hometown. There she hopes to become "proper", which means having a perfect house, perfect husband, perfect kids, and perfect social life. Poor Alma thinks that's what she needs to be happy, but it's clear that won't be the fulfilling life she's looking for. Also keep an eye out for character actors Jack Warden (12 Angry Men) and Claude Akins (Rio Bravo) in small roles as fellow military privates.
Terrific performances aside, From Here to Eternity boasts a wonderful Hawaiian setting and tight direction by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon). The film was based on the book by James Jones -- assumed to be unfilmable due to the mature content of the story -- and the screenplay by Daniel Taradash (Bell, Book and Candle) crackles with symbolism and an undercurrent of unspoken lust and pain. The final fifteen minutes, during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, are as intense and exciting as anything Michael Bay has ever put on film. From Here to Eternity is a true movie masterpiece in every sense of the word -- it's sweeping, emotionally resonant, with an engaging story and relatable characters.
Presented in 1.33:1/1080p HD full frame, Sony's From Here to Eternity (Blu-ray) offers a spectacular transfer whose black and white image is second to none. Rich and detailed with natural film grain that is never intrusive, fans will be thrilled with how fantastic this print looks. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a very good audio mix that, while often front heavy, gets a light boost from the HD upgrade. Although not on par with newer and more expansive offerings, for a film of this age it sounds excellent. Also included are seven alternate language tracks and 22 (!) subtitle options.
Bonus features include a picture-in-picture track, audio commentary from director Fred Zinnemann's son Tim and writer Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2), a vintage featurette ("The Making of From Here to Eternity"), interview segments with Zinnemann ("As I See It"), and a collection of lobby cards.
Classic cinema at its very best. Highly recommended.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Lobby Cards