From Here to Eternity (1953)
December 29, 2021 1:54 AM - Subscribe

At a U.S. Army base in 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his commanding officer's wife and top aide begin a tentative affair.

At an Army barracks in Hawaii in the days preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor, lone-wolf soldier and boxing champion "Prew" Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) refuses to box, preferring to play the bugle instead. Hard-hearted Capt. Holmes (Philip Ober) subjects Prew to a grueling series of punishments while, unknown to Holmes, the gruff but fair Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) engages in a clandestine affair with the captain's mistreated wife (Deborah Kerr).

A.H. Weiler: Out of "From Here to Eternity," a novel whose anger and compassion stirred a post-war reading public as few such works have, Columbia and a company of sensitive hands have forged a film almost as towering and persuasive as its source. Although it naturally lacks the depth and fullness of the 430,000 words and 850 pages of the book, this dramatization of phases of the military life in a peacetime army, which was unveiled at the Capitol yesterday, captures the essential spirit of the James Jones study. And, as a job of editing, emending, re-arranging and purifying a volume bristling with brutality and obscenities, "From Here to Eternity" stands as a shining example of truly professional moviemaking.As may be surmised, credit for this metamorphosis cannot be localized. The team of scenarist, director, producer and cast has managed to transfer convincingly the muscularity of the basically male society with which the book dealt; the poignance and futility of the love lives of the professional soldiers involved, as well as the indictment of commanding officers whose selfishness can break men devoted to soldiering. They are trapped in a world they made and one that defeats them

William Brogdon: 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.

MaryAnn Johanson: No, sorry, I don’t get it. From Here to Eternity is supposed to be this great, tragic melodrama, but I just don’t see it. As far as I can tell, every dumb guy in this movie has only himself to blame for all the stupid things that happen to him.

. . .

From Here to Eternity could be one of the cable network TBS’s “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies.” It’s just chock full of “guy” reasoning. Warden loves Karen simply because she’s gorgeous and slutty (at least, we’re offered no other reason for their affair). But then he gets mad at her for being a tramp — in fact, that supposedly romantic scene of the two of them sucking face as they roll in the surf always gets cut off in the clip we’ve all seen a million times before he starts yelling at her and calling her a whore (he knows how to woo a girl, huh?). If she wasn’t libertine enough to be cheating on her husband, she’d couldn’t be sleeping with him — but this never seems to occur to him.


Oh, there’s so much more, but it’s all rather repetitious. Suffice to say that I felt no sympathy whatsoever for these jerks.

posted by Carillon (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This movie I'd say has a reputation, so I wasn't actually expecting it to be as good and interesting as it is. There's definitely some of the 'guy logic' complaints from the third review linked that ring true, but I think that also ignores the world in which it's set and how much that comes through in the film. It's not the choice I'd make per se, but to me never felt like something that wasn't in character. Having now read some of the differences between the movie and the novel, I think it would have been stronger had it adhered to the changes the military and censor board objected to, but overall was a nice surprise.
posted by Carillon at 1:59 AM on December 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Only a few will find it too strong for their effete tastes. Importantly, the distaffers will like it.

The distaffers, huh? ("Women".) Despite all the misogyny of the current century, that totally mainstream review from 1953 does highlight some of the progress we've made.

I really appreciate the links to contemporary reviews alongside current ones. Thanks!
posted by trig at 4:56 AM on December 29, 2021

There is a scene about midfilm where Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster meet up while each is on a separate bender; it is some of the best Drunk Acting I have ever seen.

Conversely, the scenes where people are having conversations while standing next to huge calendars saying "December 6" or signs reading "Pearl Harbor 2 miles" bugged the snot out of me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2021

I love that scene for two reasons, one more meta-textual. The first is that it's only most of the way through the conversation that you realize they are sitting in the middle of a road while talking. It's not clear at first what they're sitting on, and then a car shows up. The second is that I read that Clift was actually drunk for that scene but Lancaster wasn't, something that tickles me.
posted by Carillon at 4:35 PM on December 30, 2021

Well, I just watched FHTE again a few days ago! Lemme see. Overall, the movie is pretty good. But it's also a bit uneven. Burt Lancaster as 1SG Warden is excellent in a good role. On the other hand, Montgomery Clift as PVT Prewitt is a little much in what I consider a poorly realized character. I don't know if it was the writing or the directing, but the Prew character doesn't work for me. And then there are the excellent supporting cast members in equally good roles. Jack Warden. Superman. Marty. Donna Reed. Deborah Kerr. And of course, Old Blue Eyes as the doomed Angelo.

What else. Production is good. The action is good. The story is actually kind of "meh" for me. What I enjoy most is the depiction of the day-to-day lives of the soldiers. Prew can't leave base. But the dogfaces still have Choy's to go to to drink beers on-base. Convenient.

Yeah, FHTE is a movie I could watch again. Just not anytime soon.
posted by Stuka at 6:17 PM on December 31, 2021

this is the quintessential Clift movie depicting his independent outsider persona; IRL he refused to sign a contract during the heyday of the studio system.
posted by brujita at 5:44 PM on January 29, 2022

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