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FROM HERE TO ETERNITY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra
Director:  Fred Zinnemann
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  118 Minutes
Release Date:  October 23, 2001

“I’ve never been so miserable in my life as I have since I met you.”

“Neither have I.”

“I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

“Neither would I.”

Film ****

From Here to Eternity is simply one of the best films to ever come out of Hollywood, and a true classic in every sense of the word.  It’s dramatic tales of love and anger, of loyalty and betrayal, of friends and enemies set against the backdrop of one of the biggest turning points in the history of our country makes it a movie that never grows old, and a perfect film for DVD.

It is 1941, and the United States Army has been resting as comfortably as it can in between the two greatest wars of the modern era.  Onto a base in Hawaii comes young Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift), clearly a man of principles in a job where principles are sometimes required to take a back seat.  He accepted a demotion to Private from Corporal over such a matter.

The base’s commanding officer wants to put Prewitt on their boxing team for a chance to win a championship.  Prewitt earned a reputation for his prowess in the ring, but has since refused to fight after accidentally blinding a man during a sparring match.  This doesn’t win him many friends, and soon he becomes the victim of “the treatment”, which involves one fatigue detail after another and very little liberty.

Two men who do befriend him are fellow private Angelo Maggio (Sinatra, in an Oscar winning role), a good but occasionally hot tempered Italian American, and Sergeant Warden (Lancaster), who tries to run his outfit with as much fairness as he’s allowed to.

Warden is secretly in love with his CO’s alluring wife, Karen Holmes (Kerr, playing against type).  She has an unhappy marriage that has never recovered from a dark incident from the past.  In the meantime, Prewitt is introduced to a special club in town by Maggio, where he falls for the lovely Alma, a.k.a. Lorene (Reed, another Oscar winner). 

The film follows all stories gracefully.  Sergeant Warden only finds anxious stolen moments with Karen, and finds that he may have to do the one thing he’s never wanted to in order to keep her.  Prewitt, because of his refusal to give in and box, finds very few chances to meet with Alma, who adamantly claims she doesn’t want to be a soldier’s wife.  As for Maggio, whose willingness to stand up for his friend has often gotten him into the same hot water, he makes an enemy of a racist stockade sergeant that will eventually lead to his undoing in one of the picture’s saddest sequences.

These dramatic stories are fleshed out by the terrific characters, all played to perfection by their respected actors.  Lancaster is terrific as always as the dutiful but fair Warden, and his romantic scene on the beach with Ms. Kerr has become one of cinema’s most indelible images.  Montgomery Clift, who was director Fred Zinnemann’s personal choice for the role of Prewitt, creates another in a line of characters he was famous for in his all-too-short career; that of the sensitive loner who tries to forage his way as best as he can under weighty circumstances.

And Frank Sinatra, who has been labeled “The Voice” by MGM and never given a real acting role in a film before, lobbied hard and long for the chance to play Maggio.  He ended up getting the role after a convincing screen test (his improvisation of playing with olives as dice was even put into the picture), but very little money to do it.  It was a career defining moment for the Chairman of the Board, who proved his acting mettle in an unforgettable performance and as mentioned, took home a well-deserved Oscar for his work.

These characters and their stories are more than enough to make for a lasting movie impression, but the film saves its most potent moments for last, as all of them find themselves snagged up in the events of December 7, 1941…a day that would not only live in infamy, but forever change the course of many lives.  Warden, Prewitt and Maggio are no exceptions, and neither are Karen and Alma.

Even some fifty years later, watching From Here to Eternity leaves one with the unshakable impression that they’ve seen something remarkable.  The stories of passion and tragedy carry the audience from one singular moment to a next, as well as an entire country from peace to war.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for George Reeves, TV’s Superman, in a small role as Sergeant Maylon Stark.

Video **1/2

This is not a bad looking offering from Columbia Tri Star, but has a few print-related problems worth noting.  Though brighter sequences render well, with good light to dark contrasts, sharp images and a clean look, darker ones show much more wear and tear, with some flickering caused by build up on the film, plus more spots and streaks and a less cleaner contrast leading to more grain.  It looks better on DVD than it did on previous VHS versions, but it may be time to consider taking this classic in for a full restoration.  The overall results are still generally good, and very watchable, but it’s impossible to overlook the occasional striking flaws.

Audio ***

The mono soundtrack fares much better, with as much potent dynamic range as I can ever remember hearing from such a track.  The climactic ending is loud and explosive, and will fill your living room with the terrible sounds of war.  In other scenes, dialogue is always extremely clear and the music tastefully rendered.  There are no complaints in this department.

Features **1/2

The disc seems like it’s nicely packaged, but a closer look reveals otherwise…the so-called “making-of” featurette runs a mere two and a half minutes, and contains nothing worthwhile.  The “Fred Zimmermann:  As I See It” piece runs over nine minutes, but again, most of the running time is taken up by film clips, leaving only a few behind the scenes home video clips as the only treats.  There is a trailer for this film plus two others, filmographies, production notes (in the booklet), and an audio commentary by the director’s son Tim Zimmermann and bit actor Alvin Sargent.  It doesn’t start promising, as Zimmermann says he’ll talk about “as much as I can remember”, and Sargent confesses to not knowing why he was asked to take part.  It gets better.  Though not really screen-specific, both men share memories about the picture, and Sargent especially has many fond remembrances of Montgomery Clift, which are nice to hear.  Overall, a decent listen, but not an exemplary one.

Summary:

From Here to Eternity is a classic American film which belongs in every cinema lover’s library strictly on its own merits.  It’s not quite as upstanding as some Columbia Tri Star DVD releases, but it’s still a nice volume to have, and is certainly a film that deserves to be preserved on disc for all time.