It's 1941. Robert E. Lee Prewitt has requested Army transfer and has ended up at Schofield in Hawaii. His new captain, Dana Holmes, has heard of his boxing prowess and is keen to get him to represent the company.
However, 'Prew' is adamant that he doesn't box anymore, so Captain Holmes gets his subordinates to make his life a living hell. Meanwhile Sergeant Warden starts seeing the captain's wife, who has a history of seeking external relief from a troubled marriage. Prew's friend Maggio has a few altercations with the sadistic stockade Sergeant 'Fatso' Judson, and Prew begins falling in love with social club employee Lorene.
Unbeknownst to anyone, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor looms in the distance.
Burt Lancaster ... 1st Sgt. Milton Warden
Montgomery Clift ... Pvt. Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt
Deborah Kerr ... Karen Holmes
Donna Reed ... Alma 'Lorene' Burke
Frank Sinatra ... Pvt. Angelo Maggio
Philip Ober ... Capt. Dana 'Dynamite' Holmes
Mickey Shaughnessy ... Cpl. Leva
Harry Bellaver ... Pvt. Mazzioli
Ernest Borgnine ... Sgt. James R. 'Fatso' Judson
Jack Warden ... Cpl. Buckley
Director: Fred Zinnemann
13 Oscar nominations, won 8 Oscars: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Sound (Recording), Best Writing (Screenplay)
Codecs: DivX 3 / MP3
If FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is the best war movie ever made, it is because it deals so exclusively with the human element of war. This is director Fred Zinnemann's masterpiece, the worthy recipient of eight Oscars. Without a doubt the best film of 1953, it is also one of the classics of world cinema.
Fred Zinnemann's strengths as a filmmaker--his intelligence and ability to tell a good story--serve him well in his direction of the excellent screenplay by Daniel Taradash. This is one of those rare wonders of film-making where so much that could have gone wrong goes miraculously right. The screenplay extracted from James Jones' novel couldn't be better, nor could the major characters have been entrusted to a finer cast.
Montgomery Clift rose to major stardom in A PLACE IN THE SUN, but in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY he tops everything done by an actor in the 1950s, save Brando's ON THE WATERFRONT. The most photogenic of actors during this period, he portrays a man with principles, a man who has to go his own way, and while we may cringe at some of the scenes where he has to endure "the treatment" because he refuses to yield to the whims of his superiors, we cannot help but identify with the man who has made the right choice.
Burt Lancaster plays the honest and confident sergeant, just the type of character who would make a hero for a major film, and although he is somewhat overshadowed by Clift, he is excellent and always a pleasure to watch. His strong face and body have the look of authority, and this may have been the first film where Lancaster was really acclaimed for his acting (although I also like his work in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA and THE KILLERS). Lancaster received his first Oscar nomination, and though Clift (on his third nomination) should easily have won, both actors split the votes to the benefit of William Holden in STALAG 17.
Deborah Kerr, all vestiges of her Scottish accent discarded, plays a hot tamale of a captain's wife with something of a past. She doesn't sleep with her husband, but it doesn't take her and Lancaster long to size each other up as potential lovers. In terms of length, Miss Kerr's role is more of a supporting one, but she brings such a wealth of strength and sensitivity to her scenes that she lifts her role to starring status. She received her second Best Actress nomination.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is quite famous for the performance of Frank Sinatra, very good as the hot-tempered Italian who won't back down from the wrath of Ernest Borgnine as the sergeant of the guard at the stockade where Sinatra has been sent after going AWOL. In his opening scenes, Sinatra seems to be the only sign of comic relief, but his final scene in Montgomery Clift's arms, when his last thoughts are of his friend and what could happen to him, has intense dramatic force.
Sinatra won an Oscar in the supporting category, as did Donna Reed for an excellent performance as the girl who becomes involved with Clift. This love affair has real warmth and heart. Miss Reed has a genuine sweetness in her scenes with Clift (plus a tragic quality in the film's final scene with Deborah Kerr) that gives her scenes in the New Congress Club a brittle hardness that is doubly potent.
All the girls in the New Congress Club look and act like hookers, but there is nothing in the action or dialogue that substantiates this. In fact, all efforts seem to have been made to give these girls the appearance of innocence, as if apologizing for including such scenes in a mainstream movie. Of course, the reasons were obvious in 1953: kids could see this movie and have no questions later, while adults got the picture. How many adults could think Army men would be satisfied with soft drinks and dancing? FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is a movie whose climax we know is coming, and when it does it almost has the quality of euthanasia. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is depicted in a few deft strokes, but Zinnemann makes the excitement and terror palpable.
There are many who remember this film for its powerful love scene on the beach between Lancaster and Miss Kerr, or maybe the barroom brawl scene involving Clift, Borgnine, and Lancaster, or perhaps any of the scenes at the New Congress Club, or Sinatra's final scene. Seeing this one again for the umpteenth time, I found almost any scene in it unforgettable. Maybe that's the definition of a great film.
* Eli Wallach accepted the role of Angelo Maggio, but then turned it down because he had agreed to appear in Elia Kazan's Broadway production of "Camino Real" and had a scheduling problem.
* Joan Crawford refused a role because she abhorred the costumes.
* Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn wanted Aldo Ray to play Prewitt and Joan Crawford for the Karen Holmes role. Director Fred Zinnemann had his own ideas.
* The scene in which Maggio meets Prew and Lorene in the bar after he walks off guard duty, was actually Frank Sinatra's screen test for the part of Maggio. To impress director Fred Zinnemann, he did an ad-lib using olives as dice and pretending to shoot craps. The entire sequence was kept as is and used in the picture.
* A false rumor has been circulating for years that George Reeves, who played Sgt. Maylon Stark, had his role drastically edited after preview audiences recognized him as TV's "Superman". According to director Fred Zinnemann, screenwriter Daniel Taradash and assistant director Earl Bellamy, the rumor is false. Every scene written for Reeves' character was filmed, and each of those scenes is still present in its entirety in the film as released. This rumor is nonetheless repeated as truth in Hollywoodland (2006), a movie about the investigation into Reeves' death.
* Montgomery Clift didn't manage to move like a boxer despite extensive boxing lessons, so he had to be doubled by a real boxer for the long shots in the boxing match. The fight had to be carefully edited so the close-ups and other shots matched satisfactorily. Nonetheless, the use of the double is obvious if you pay attention to the details.
* In the scene where Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift play drunk sitting on the street, Clift actually was drunk, but Lancaster was not.
* The novel was deemed unfilmable for a long time because of its negative portrayal of the US army (which would prevent the army from supporting the film with people and hardware/logistics) and the profanity. To get army support and pass the censorship of the time crucial details had to be changed. The brothel became a night club, the whores hostesses. The profanity was removed, the brutal treatment in the stockade toned down and Captain Holmes removed from the army instead of promoted.
* Joan Fontaine was offered the role of Karen Holmes but had to decline due to family problems. She now regrets it and blames the failure of her late career to turning down the offer.
* The now classic scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the rushing water on the beach was not written to take place there. The idea to film with the waves hitting them was a last minute inspiration from the director.
* Harry Cohn was so convinced that Deborah Kerr could not be "sexy" enough to play the lead in this film that he almost did not cast her.
* The novel was a best seller when it was released. One actor always bragged to his friends that if they ever made a film of the book, he'd play a part. Shortly after saying this, he was actually called to audition for the film. The actor was Ernest Borgnine.
* Cameo: [James Jones] in the background chatting with hostesses and other soldiers over Ernest Borgnine's shoulder as Fatso (Borgnine) plays the piano at the New Congress Club.
* Shot in a mere 41 days and for only $1 million.
* Frank Sinatra had to campaign especially hard to get this part as his career had hit a low point by this time
* The title phrase comes originally 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".
* Shelley Winters turned down the role of Alma, as she had just given birth to her daughter Vittoria.
* Ronald Reagan and Walter Matthau were among the actors considered for the role of Sgt. Warden.
* If Columbia head Harry Cohn had gotten his way, the film would have starred Aldo Ray as Prewitt, Edmond O'Brien as Warden, Joan Crawford as Karen, Julie Harris as Lorene and Eli Wallach as Maggio.
* An urban myth regarding the casting of Frank Sinatra was that the Mafia made Columbia Pictures an offer they couldn't refuse. This of course was fictionalized in Mario Puzo's novel "The Godfather" and its subsequent film adaptation. The real reason for Sinatra's casting was mainly his then-wife Ava Gardner, who was shooting a film for Columbia head Harry Cohn and suggested to him that he use Sinatra. Although initially reluctant, Cohn eventually saw this as being a good idea, as Sinatra's stock was so low at the time that he would sign for a very low salary. Sinatra had been lobbying hard for the role,even suggesting he would do it for nothing, but he was eventually hired for the token amount of $8,000.
* Future screenwriter Alvin Sargent has a bit part in the film. He was paid $400 for a week's work in Hawaii. Sargent would later go on to win an Oscar for Julia (1977), also directed by Fred Zinnemann.
* Original novelist James Jones was not happy with the film, as he considered it to be too sanitized.
* Harry Cohn resisted the idea of casting Montgomery Clift as Prewitt as "he was no soldier, no boxer and probably a homosexual". Fred Zinnemann refused to make the film without him.
* The film went on to gross $18 million, the tenth highest grossing film of the 1950s.
* Dubbed "Cohn's Folly" because many thought the novel was too long and too adult to be filmed. Harry Cohn paid $82,000 for the rights.
* James Jones himself was one of the numerous writers who had attempted to adapt the book for the screen.
* The US Army was initially reluctant to lend their co-operation to the production. Producer Buddy Adler had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the Signal Corps during WWII and was able to bring his influence to bear.
* A nationwide search of Army surplus stores yielded pre-Pearl Harbor style Springfield rifles, canvas leggings, campaign hats and flat steel helmets. The extras - who were all real soldiers - were all drilled to learn how to use all this outdated equipment.
* Fred Zinnemann insisted on filming in black and white, as he felt that "color would have made it look trivial". He also eschewed the use of any of the popular new widescreen ratios.
* Fred Zinnemann was chosen to direct the project largely at the suggestion of screenwriter Daniel Taradash, who had been impressed with Zinnemann's handling of the previous war-themed movies The Search (1948), The Men (1950) and Teresa (1951).
* Fred Zinnemann was initially reluctant to make the film, as he had an inherent distrust of Columbia head Harry Cohn. He also felt that in the then climate of McCarthyism, to voice anything that cast any doubt over such institutions as the Army, the Navy or the FBI was just asking for trouble.
* Montgomery Clift threw himself into the character of Prewitt, learning to play the bugle (even though he knew he'd be dubbed) and taking boxing lessons. Fred Zinnemann said, "Clift forced the other actors to be much better than they really were. That's the only way I can put it. He got performances from the other actors, he got reactions from the other actors that were totally genuine."
* Burt Lancaster was nervous when he started the film. Most of his previous pictures had been fairly lightweight productions, and this was his first "serious" role. He was especially intimidated by Montgomery Clift's skill and intensity.
* Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and author James Jones were very close during the filming, frequently embarking on monumental drinking binges. Clift coached Sinatra on how to play Maggio during their more sober moments, for which Sinatra was eternally grateful.
* As scripted, Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster's classic clinch on the beach was to be filmed standing up. It was Lancaster's idea to do it horizontally in the surf. The scene was filmed at Halona Cove on the eastern side of Oahu, near Koko Head Crater and Sandy Beach, and the location became a major tourist attraction for years after.
* The MPAA banned photos of the famous Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr passionate kiss on the beach for being too erotic. Many prints had shortened versions of the scene because projectionists would cut out frames to keep as souvenirs.
* With 8 Oscars, the most awarded film by the Academy since Gone with the Wind (1939).
* The film helped to popularize Aloha shirts.
* The censors demanded that Deborah Kerr's swimsuit should feature a skirt in its design so as to not be too sexually provocative.