The James Jones bestseller, “From Here to Eternity,” has become an outstanding motion picture in this smash screen adaptation. It is an important film from any angle, presenting socko entertainment for big business. The cast names are exceptionally good, the exploitation and word-of-mouth values are topnotch, and the prospects in all playdates are very bright whether special key bookings or general run.
It was not an easy task to transfer the Jones novel to the screen and still retain a substantial measure of its dramatic masculinity. Under Buddy Adler’s production guidance it emerges as a sock affair, in many instances a much better motion picture than the novel was a book. The bawdy vulgarity and the outhouse vocabulary, the pros and non-pros among its easy ladies, and the slambang indictment of Army brass have not been emasculated in the transfer to the screen, but are certainly shown in much better taste for consumption by a broader audience. It’s still raw, tough dramatic stuff of great entertainment pull for adult ticket buyers. Only a few will find it too strong for their effete tastes. Importantly, the distaffers will like it.
Fred Zinnemann’s direction is solid handling of motion picture dramatics; a study in building scenes, developing characters and molding the parts into cohesive, gripping drama that is spiced with action, rounded people and humor. To back his direction he had an exceptionally fine screenplay by Daniel Taradash, who translated into visual movement, without clutter, the mood and feel that was not always sustained in the Jones novel, plus a cast seemingly so perfect for the roles it would be hard to imagine anyone else playing the characters, even though some of the assignments are off-beat to the extreme.Burt Lancaster, whose presence adds measurably to the marquee weight of the strong cast names, wallops the character of Top Sergeant Milton Warden, the professional soldier who wetnurses a weak, pompous commanding officer and the Gis under him. It is a performance to which he gives depth of character as well as the muscles which had gained marquee importance for his name. Montgomery Clift, with a reputation for sensitive, three-dimensional performances, adds another to his growing list as the independent GI who refuses to join the company boxing team, taking instead the ‘treatment’ dished out at the c.o.’s instructions. Frank Sinatra scores a decided hit as Angelo Maggio, a violent, likeable Italo-American GI. While some may be amazed at this expression of the Sinatra talent versatility, it will come as no surprise to those who remember the few times he has had a chance to be something other than a crooner in films.
Additional performance surprises are in the work turned in by Deborah Kerr, the nymphomaniac wife of the faithless c.o., and Donna Reed as a hostess (sic) in the New Congress Club, which furnished femme and other entertainment for relaxing soldiers. Miss Kerr’s role and delivery of it is a far cry from the sweet, pure things she previously portrayed and may bring about a casting switch for her. Miss Reed, too, has a change of pace and reveals an ability for meaty, dramatic work scarcely suspected from her previous assignments. She, like the other stars, figures most importantly in the film’s impact and this punch carries right down through the smallest bit player.
The Jones story opens in the summer of 1941 before Pearl Harbor with the setting Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, where much of the footage was taken. It deals with the transfer of Clift to the company under Philip Ober, the pompous, unfaithful husband of Kerr, who is interested only in getting a promotion to major, in his boxing team and extra-curricular affairs. When Clift refuses to join the boxing team, he is subjected to all the unpleasantness the idle GI mind can think up. Through friendship with Sinatra, he meets Miss Reed and an affair starts immediately. While this is going on, Lancaster is scoring with Miss Kerr, known to the Gis as a pushover, but this affair is complicated by the development of genuine love. The infamous Jap raid of Dec. 7, 1941, puts the cap on the dramatics, resolving all of the plot tangents still unsettled.
Eyes will moisten and throats will choke when Clift plays taps on an army bugle for his friend Sinatra after the latter dies from the brutality administered by Ernest Borgnine, the sadist sergeant in charge of the prison stockade. There will be cheers for Borgnine’s death when Clift seeks out the killer and stabs him to death, and then sorrow when Clift goes to his own death while trying to rejoin his company when the Japs strike. Integration of actual combat footage from the Jap raid adds a tough wallop to the climactic scenes.
No small measure of the success of the picture comes from behind-the-camera contributions. One of the best of these is the editing by William Lyon, which should join with production, writing, direction and playing in Academy Award contention the next time that event rolls around. Burnett Guffey’s camera work is another top contributor, as are the scoring by George Duning and the musical direction by Morris Stoloff, Jones, Fred Karger and Robert Wells furnished the film “Re-enlistment Blues,” a tune heard intermittently and there are possibilities in a title theme also heard, but never intrusively, during the short 118 minutes of footage.
1953: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actor (Frank Sinatra), Supp. Actress (Donna Reed), Screenplay, B&W Cinematography, Sound Recording, Editing
Nominations: Best Actor (Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift), Actress (Deborah Kerr), B&W Costume Design, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture