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Film Review: From Here to Eternity
In 1953, Fred Zinnemann released the drama film From Here to Eternity, based off the 1951 novel of the same name by James Jones. Starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Philip Ober, Mickey Shaughnesy, Harry Bellaver, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, John Dennis, Merle Travis, Tim Ryan, George Reeves, Claude Akins, and Alvin Sargent, the film grossed $30.5 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Actor twice, Best Costume Design (Black-and-White) and Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, it won the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Film Editing, and Best Sound (Recording) as well as the Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Director.
In late 1941, Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is transferred to Honolulu, where his commanding officer in Company G, Captain Holmes, learns he was a boxer and tries to recruit him for the unit’s boxing club. However, Prewitt refuses and Holmes decides to make his life a living hell while Prewitt’s only supporter on base is Angelo Maggio.
A great film that deserved its many awards, From Here to Eternity does well in providing a glimpse into the lives of a few men serving in the US Army in the tense days before the country’s involvement in World War II. Most notable is that it’s the first film where Frank Sinatra tried to be a serious actor. He succeeded remarkably well, giving humanity and depth to his character. The scene where he escapes from the stockade to tell Prewitt of Judson’s abuse towards him there is done very well, making the audience really feel for and resonate with him.
The film also demonstrates very well that not everyone in the armed forces is there for altruistic reasons. It also shows that when the military makes use of a draft, bad apples are going to be mixed with the good. The aforementioned Judson is a great example, as his first appearance shows him to be a hothead with a short fuse. While Prewitt and Maggio are in the New Congress Club, Judson is playing the piano quite loudly and Maggio just wants him to play a little quieter. What results isn’t Judson simply playing the piano less loudly, but the two of them nearly starting a fight. Judson’s character as a boorish brute is furthered as he later provokes him by kissing a photo of Maggio’s sister and whispering in Prewitt’s ear. It really all later comes to a head in the aforementioned scene where Prewitt is told of his abuse in the stockade and following Maggio’s death, Judson and Prewitt have a fight themselves. Interestingly, it’s not until his beating of Maggio to death that he exemplified himself as a murderous hothead, as before he was just a hotheaded loudmouth. His killing Maggio was where Judson’s character lost any sort of redemptive qualities.
There’s also Captain Holmes. He’s not as bad as Judson, but he’s still not a standup member of the US Army either, seeing as he’s constantly working to get Prewitt into the boxing club. He flat out ignores military operating procedure following his stopping a fistfight between Sergeant Galovitch and Prewitt, in the hopes that Prewitt will appreciate being let off the hook and join. He had ignored military procedures in the past, which is probably what made him do it this time. However, the films shows that he hadn’t counted on everything being seen by the base commander, who orders an investigation then a court-martial. His replacement is actually a pretty entertaining foil as the guy decides to reprimand everyone and removes the boxing club’s photographs and trophies, showing him to be more by the book than Holmes.
And the film doesn’t give any of its characters a pleasant ending, with Maggio and Prewitt dying as well as Karen breaking everything off with Warden, thus staying married to Holmes. Judson also ends everything seriously wounded in the stomach. But it’s not just a depressing ending for all these characters, seeing as the Japanese attacked in the infamous Pearl Harbor bombing. It makes it so that every single character in the film is going to have their lives affected in some way as America goes to war following the film’s closure.
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