From Here to Eternity August 20, 2016
It’s a fine example of the transitional period Hollywood was in the midst of during the 1950s. It’s old-fashioned in its delivery and its production but forward-thinking in its portrayal of pressing cultural issues and social standpoints. Though it takes place in the months leading up to the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, analyzing life during peacetime for the armed forces, it indirectly comments on post-war disillusionment. Its characters have grown exasperated trying to make the American Dream a reality for themselves, and they’ve become tired of pleasing The Man™ and his surrounding society when they’re not so sure how to please themselves.
From Here to Eternity is graceful in its timely remarks — more focus is wisely put onto the paralleling romantic relationships of its storyline — but it aptly captures the mood of America in 1953, disguising itself as a big-budget soap opera of the yesteryear to divert its real center. It’s dated only if because it’s more a looking glass than it is a timeless creation. But deservedly, it was a critical and commercial favorite, nominated for twelve Academy Awards and a winner of eight. (Today, it’s best remembered for the beachside make out session between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, interrupted by the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.)
But still effulgent are its pangs of romance and its involving story, despite the coatings of melodrama which sometimes overthrow its characterizational realism. Finding much of its plot within the walls of the Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, From Here to Eternity primarily follows the lives of a trio of the installation’s dwellers: First Sergeant Milton Warden (Lancaster), Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), and Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra).
Warden is intwined in a torrid affair with his superior’s (Philip Ober) wife (Deborah Kerr), unsure of if their relationship is strong enough to live through the ruin which will overcome their lives if their love becomes public. Prewitt is a newbie at the camp courting gentlemen’s club worker Alma (Donna Reed) — but a tragic past leaves him wary of his surroundings and sometimes insubordinate of them. Maggio is a wise cracker whose short temper and stubborn personality makes him a loyal sidekick but also a target for the more violent men of the barracks. Their fates, romantically oriented or otherwise, will be decided for them come Dec. 7, 1941.
These characters are set in stone, but screenwriter Daniel Tarandash develops them with such raw three dimension that the dramatic possibilities seem endless. These are individuals who we grow to care about, and From Here to Eternity’s frequently tragic leanings hit us hard. Because the climactic attack itself feels unexpected — we’re too engrossed in the plot to remind ourselves of the year in which the film takes place — the movie provides us with something of a sense of that same numbness and loss America was feeling during and after its four years of callous battle. Like much of that public, we wonder where we’re supposed to go after all hope seems to be lost, and that simulated emptiness remains intact six decades later.
From Here to Eternity’s emotional urgency is especially a result of its ensemble, which is encompassed by performers at their least starry. They’re wounded and they’re searching for meaning, not taken with their own personas. Though having the face and body of a threatening Greek mythology figure, Lancaster is quietly moving, a representation of a man who seems to have it all but is, in actuality, an empty vase looking to be filled by something other than professional power. Sinatra and Reed, both of whom won Oscars for their supporting characterizations, are pitch-perfect as individuals hiding behind a mask of personal charm, afraid to reveal their very real twinges of loneliness and self-doubt. Kerr is uncomfortably defenseless as a woman who appears to be self-possessed, who appears to be in control, but isn’t. Clift, who gives the most impressionable performance in the film, rouses as an ill-fated anti-hero who refuses to be anchored down.
So well drawn and performed are these characters that From Here to Eternity is a film which lives and breathes, which seems to exist on a planet all on its own. Subtle it isn’t, but captivating it is. It will always be more burning to those who lived to see it released in theaters, to those who could grasp the ambience of 1950s America and see it exemplified on the screen. For later generations, it’s almost phantasmic. It’s a snapshot of a past which we’ll never experience for ourselves, and that makes it increasingly absorbing as the years pass by. A-
1 Hr., 58 Mins.
t’s hard to decide whether From Here to Eternity is an unbridled Hollywood weeper or a kitchen-sink romantic drama which is coincidentally theatrical. But the sooner I figure that it’s better to give up on categorization the more I come to realize that it doesn’t matter if it’s emotionally manipulative or senselessly tragic or romantically calculated. Point is is that it’s an efficacious pre-wartime sudser. It's complete with a cast dreams are made of and a swayingly bittersweet atmosphere which ensures that everything is tinged with melancholy so affectionately misty it’d be impolite not to shed a tear or two when the goings really get rough.