Welcome to today’s show, From Here to Eternity (1953), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is From Here to Eternity (1953). This is a war film but there is very little fighting in this movie. It is a love story, but it is all secondary to being a soldier. Burt Lancaster stars as a top sergeant that gets involved with Deborah Kerr’s character. Lancaster’s character tries to take care of Montgomery Clift character as he falls for a prostitute played by Donna Reed.
The title of the film is taken from a Rudyard Kipling poem title “Gentlemen-Rankers” and the lines are:
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
A gentleman ranker is an enlisted soldier who may have been a former officer or a gentleman qualified through education and background to be a commissioned officer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentleman_ranker
Singer Billy Bragg echoes this in his song “Island of No Return”
I wish Kipling and the Captain were here
To record our pursuits for posterity
Me and the Corporal out on a spree
Damned from here to eternity
So, it all fits in with the movie.
This movie was directed by Fred Zinnemann. It is based on a novel by James Jones and the book is red hot and full of salty language. The movie was cooled down a bit using water as a metaphor. This film was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 8, including Best Picture, Best Director and both the male and female supporting roles. The film is currently rated 52 on the American Film Institute (AFI) list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies. Roger Ebert places the beach scene in his 100 Great Movie Moments.
The characters are very well developed and the four mains are supported by Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine.
So, let’ jump right into the actors, many of whom of show veterans.
Cast against type, Donna Reed played Alma, the clip girl, aka Lorene. Reed was first covered in Episode53 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
Willis Bouchey acted in a small role as an uncredited Army Lieutenant Colonel. Bouchey was covered in Episode 37 – The Violent Men (1955).
Ernest Borgnine played the apply named Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson Episode 18 – The Vikings (1958).
Claude Akins played Sgt. ‘Baldy’ Dhom and was one of the unit’s boxers. This movie was Akins first. Akins was covered in Episode 110 – The Caine Mutiny (1954).
Montgomery Clift played one of the main roles as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt. The man’s name if Clift. At some point during this show, I will say Cliff. Try to ignore it.
Clift was born in Nebraska in 1920. He started on Broadway very early at the age of 13. He stayed in New York for a decade before being lured to Hollywood. His extensive theater training made him a very disciplined and accomplished actor.
His first film was Red River (1948) where he shared almost equal screen time with John Wayne. This movie was followed by a number of great roles such as The Search (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), where he nailed the role of the lonely complex soldier, and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) where Clift was so great when playing a victim of the Nazis, that you feel great sorry for him.
Clift had to hide his homosexuality and did this fairly well with the help of the studio. By 1950, Clift was plagued with colitis and pill addiction. In 1956, Clift and Elizabeth Taylor were filming Raintree County (1957) and a drunken Clift crashed into a tree. He had to have facial reconstruction. Even after he recovered he continued to take drugs.
Finally, he moved to New York and settled down somewhat. Clift was set to star with Taylor in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) but died suddenly in 1966 at the age of 45. The cause was coronary disease.
Famous acting teacher Robert Lewis said from the crash in 1956 until his death in 1966 was the “longest suicide in history.”
Deborah Kerr played Karen Holmes, the wife of Captain Holmes. Kerr took this role to break her prim and proper reputation. Kerr was born in Scotland in 1921. By the time, Kerr was a teenager, her aunt some stage work. This lead to roles in English films such as Major Barbara (1941), Love on the Dole (1941), and Black Narcissus (1947).
In 1947, Kerr moved to America and went to work for MGM. Initially, she was cast as a prudish English woman in films like The Hucksters (1947), Edward, My Son (1949) and Quo Vadis (1951). To get away from these roles, she took the role of an adulteress in From Here to Eternity (1953). Kerr was great in The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner. However, I thought she was fantastic as nun trapped on an enemy island with a marine played by Robert Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mrs. Allison (1957). Other great performances include An Affair to Remember (1957), with Cary Grant, Separate Tables (1958), The Sundowners (1960) another of my favorites where she and Robert Mitchum played Australian itinerant workers, as she dreamed of a home, The Innocents (1961), and The Night of the Iguana (1964).
In 1968, she walked away from films, being disgusted with the changing morals. She did some television and returned for two films in late 1980s. Kerr holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win, six. In 1994, she was given an honorary Oscar for her body of work. Kerr passed away in 2007 at the age of 86.
Frank Sinatra played the ethnic role of Angelo Maggio AKA Maggio the Wop. Sinatra’s career was at an all-time low and he was hired at a discount. Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1915. He grew up on the tough street of the Jersey town but he had a voice. He began singing and worked his way up working for Harry James and then Tommy Dorsey. With the help of his agent and first wife, Sinatra crafted his image into that of a tough street guy and began a solo singing career in 1942.
Sinatra started making small appearances in movies and then moved to the big time with Anchors Aweigh (1945) co-starting dancer/actor Gene Kelly. Sinatra was in a couple more musicals with Kelly, On the Town (1949) and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949). In the early 1950s, vocal cord hemorrhage, a public affair with Ava Gardner, and a divorce hurt his career. However, Sinatra came back with a vengeance playing Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953), a role that won him a best-supporting actor Oscar. He won an Oscar for best-supporting actor. Sinatra played a heroin-addicted card dealer in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). He won the best actor Oscar for this role.
Sinatra continued to make movies through the late 50s and early 60s with films such as Guys and Dolls (1955), The Joker Is Wild (1957) and Some Came Running (1958), Ocean’s 11 (1960), and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Sinatra roared back in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which many believe is his best film. As the 1960s rolled to an end Sinatra kept busy with a spate of war movies that include None But the Brave (1965), about enemy soldiers trapped on an island, Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), about the birth of the nation of Israel, and Von Ryan’s Express (1965). He made a few more detective films, but Dirty Dingus Magee (1970) put his acting on a decade-long hiatus. Sinatra played a detective in The First Deadly Sin (1980), had a cameo in Cannonball Run II (1984), and his last acting was on television’s “Magnum, P.I.” 1980. Sinatra died at the age of 82 in 1998.
I always imagined that Frank Sinatra with the Johnny Fontaine character from The Godfather (1972) and the role the Don got for him with the horse head was From Here to Eternity (1953). Of course, I have no evidence for this, I just always thought. A quick internet search tells me that many people have also had this idea.
In Hawaii, in 1941, Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers to a rifle company from a cushy job in the Bugle Corp at Fort Shafter. He had to give up his corporal stripes to transfer because prior to World War II enlisted ranks stayed with the unit. His new company is at Schofield Barracks on Oahu.
As Prewitt approaches the orderly room, he sees his old buddy Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) outside. Maggio cannot understand why his friend would leave the easy job. First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) starts processing him in when the company commander Captain Dana “Dynamite Holmes (Phil Ober) arrives and takes over the Prewitt’s reporting. The Captain demands to know why he left the Bugle Corp. Under duress, Prewitt talks the Captain and 1st Sgt Warden, that he was removed as first-bulger because his old 1st Sgt. had a friend that was not as good placed in that position. Neither man can really believe he is that stubborn. The Captain finally gets around to asking Prewitt to join his boxing team saying with a good middle weight they can will the Division championship on December 15th. He says all of the boxers in the company are None Commissioned Officers. Prewitt flatly refuses and refers to a sparring accident where he hurt his friend. Holmes leaves for the day and Warden processes him in.
About this time, Captain Holmes wife Karen (Deborah Kerr). The supply sergeant says she has been known to fool around. Warden and Karen verbally spar before she leaves. Back at her home the Captain comes in and soon become clear that their marriage is broken and she does not inquire into his actions as per her agreement. The cause of the trouble is not told at this time.
Holmes has the sergeants on the boxing team start riding Prewitt. Prewitt tells his friend Maggio that he can handle anything these guys can throw at him.The sergeant (Claude Akins, John Dennis) put the press on Prewitt while he playing pool and makes a triple ball shot. Prewitt says he can handle anything these guys can throw at him.That night Corporal Buckley (Jack Warden) tells him that the top sergeant will be fair to him and that he served in the Boxer revolution in China. He has to run punishment for allegedly being out of step and other small infractions. When Maggie stands up for his friend, he has to run punishment as well.
The Captain tells Warden that he will be staying out all night. Warden uses this opportunity to get out more as advised by his commander, to go see Karen Holmes. He makes an excuse to get inside and then she decides she wants him to stay. She talks about not having a child. They kiss and it shows the rain so you figure out the rest.
Finally, payday comes and the men get a chance to go into town. Maggio gives his friend a nice Hawaiian shirt to wear. After they get a snoot full, they head to a private club that Maggio is a member of. He vouches for Prewitt and he is allowed to join as well. Prewitt only has eyes for Lorene (Donna Reed) who has her hair dyed black for this role.
As Warden gets ready to go out to secretly meet Karen Sgt. Stark (George Reeves) says he has been with her himself and something is wrong with her. Warden and Karen meet far away from the base. At first, she is very passive aggressive and tries to run Warden off. At one point Warden says your “….acting like Lady Nancy Astor’s horse…”. This means something like you are over-dressed or feel very self-important. He calms her down and they both say they have bathing suits on under their clothes.
Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson (Ernest Borgnine) is banging on the piano like a sign language ape that has been hit in the head with a rock. Prewitt starts talking to Lorene but has to leave when Maggio and Fatso get into a fight over the piano playing. Fatso runs the stockade and is a bad person to have as an enemy. When Prewitt gets back to Alma another man has moved in. The two men do some verbal sparring before Alma and the new guy leaves for another room. Lorene comes back later and Prewitt tells her he is not like the rest. She takes him to the VIP room.
Back at the beach Warden and Karen go swimming and then have that iconic scene of the wave crashing over them as they kiss on the beach. I think it took about 8 hours to get this scene made. After that lovely scene, Warden starts giving her grief about the other men she has had affairs with. Karen digs in and tells the story of her husband’s cheating and how he failed to bring a doctor when she was giving birth and the baby died. Also, she can’t have any children. In the book, he gave her a social disease. Not like social media. Warden feels bad and they kiss again.
Maggie comes up to the VIP room to collect his buddy and share his whiskey. Maggio leaves and says the treatment starts again tomorrow. He tells Alma the story of sparring with his friend Dixie Wales and accidentally putting him into a coma that resulted in him losing his eyesight.
Training starts again in the morning and Corporal Buckley tells him the boxing sergeants are going to start riding him full force. They make him crawl through water and did and fill pits.
One day in the boxing ring Prewitt is cleaning the floor and the Captain tells Sgt. Galovich to kick the spit bucket over. He demands Prewitt clean the mess. However, Prewitt refuses. The Captain orders Prewitt to hike with a full pack up to the top of mountain and back before returning to see the Captain. When Prewitt returns, he refuses to apologize and they make him do it again. The Captain tells Warden to prepare court-martial papers. Warden seems to goes along but tricks the Captain into giving him double punishment instead.
Prewitt is on extra duty for a month and he handles everything. Warden goes in to try and talk him into boxing because it’s the smart play. Prewitt says I ain’t smart. Warden admires the toughness in the man even though he tries to break him.
Warden goes to a bar named Choy’s and Maggio and Prewitt are there as well. Prewitt picks up a bugle and shows how good he really is. Maggio has a picture of his family. Fatso comes in and looks at the picture of Maggio’s sister and says something tasteless to Prewitt about her. Maggio clubs him over the head with a stool and Fatso pulls a knife. Warden steps in saying it would be too much paperwork if Maggio was killed. Fatso then comes after Warden who breaks a beer bottle in half. Fatso decides not to try it. Burt Lancaster is so cool. But he warns Maggio that one day he will end up in the stockade. Prewitt picks up Fatso’s knife. Warden tells Prewitt he can have a weekend pass.
That weekend Maggio is getting ready to go out and Sgt. Galovich grabs him for guard duty. Lorene is kind of hard on Prewitt as she is busy at the club. She tells him that her name is really Alma.
Prewitt goes to another club and Alma finally joins him. He tells her he loves the Army. When she says, the Army doesn’t love him back. He tells her that just because you love something doesn’t mean it has to love you back. He also tells her that he played bugle in front of the president at Arlington Cemetery. Maggio shows up drunk and finally tells him that he has gone AWOL from guard duty. Alma accepts Prewitt going to look after his friend.
In this scene, Maggio grabs two olives and throws them along the bar pretending to shot craps. He yells snake-eyes, the story of his life. This was all ad-libbed by Sinatra and was shot as his audition. Sinatra was thought of so low at the time they made him pay for his own audition expenses, flying from Africa, where his wife Ava Gardner was filming Mogambo (1953), to Hawaii. The relationship between Sinatra and Gardner was so bad during the African film that she may have had an abortion, a story relayed by a friend. Good friend.
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.
Prewitt finds Maggio naked and goes to get a cab. Two military policemen come and arrest him before Prewitt gets back. Finally, they get word that Maggio has been given 6 months in the stockade. When Maggio gets to the stockade, Fatso is waiting for him.
Things ease up for Prewitt and he and Alma are dating regularly and she even gives him a key to her house. Warden and Karen are still seeing each other. Every time they see soldiers they have to hide. Tired of hiding Karen proposes that Warden becomes an officer so she can divorce her husband and marry him. He finally agrees.
Prewitt asks Alma to marry him. He says he will box to get his stripes back. Alma says she wants to go back home in style and marry a proper man.
Karen tells the Captain she is seeing someone and wants a divorce.
Prewitt finds out that Fatso is beating Maggio. Maggio like Prewitt won’t complain. Prewitt is pulling grass and Sgt. Galovich comes and steps on his hand. Galovich starts hitting Prewitt but Prewitt won’t fight back. The detail sergeant goes to Holmes and Warden for help. Holmes says he will take care of it. Prewitt finally starts hitting Galovich in the midsection. Holmes just watches as Prewitt is knocked to the ground. Prewitt gets up and destroys Galovich. The base commander and a Major see Captain Holmes not stopping the fight.
With Galovich being beaten, Holmes stops in to stop the fight. Galovich says Prewitt started the fight. All the men, including some of the boxers, say Galovich started the fight. Holmes says that the matter will be forgotten since his man was at fault. The other boxers now respect Prewitt.
Prewitt and his friends are drinking and singing. Warden is nearby and drunk as a skunk. Prewitt heads for Choy’s. On the way, he runs into Warden and they share a bottle. Warden is proud of Prewitt but knows he will be broken one day. Maggio staggers back through the dark. He tells of the beatings he has taken and the fall he took while escaping. Maggio dies in his arms.
Later, a tearful Prewitt plays taps for his dead friend. Back in town Prewitt waits outside the New Congress Club until Fatso comes out. They go into the alley and Fatso pulls a knife. Prewitt pulls out the one Fatso left from his first fight with Maggio. During the scuffle, Prewitt kills Fatso but is wounded in the gut himself. Prewitt goes to Alma’s house to hide out.
Warden reads about the killing and carries Prewitt as present for duty when he was AWOL.
Since the fight was witnessed by the base commander, an investigation was conducted. They pull Holmes in and tell him he is going to be court-martialed. Holmes asks if there is any other way and the commander tells him to resign immediately.
Captain Ross takes over the company and says no man will earn his stripes through boxing. He has Galovich demoted to private and put in charge of cleaning the latrines. About this time, Karen calls Warden and says she needs to see him right away. The calendar on the wall shows that it is December 6th, 1941. Karen and Warden meet and she says she has to ship back to the states with her husband. Warden admits that he has not put in the paperwork to become an office. Karen now knows that the two will never be together. Warden is more concerned with finding Prewitt than being with her.
Prewitt is getting better but he is drinking and kind of snotty. Before 8 am on Sunday morning the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Warden takes charge of the men as Prewitt lays in a fever. Warden tells the Sergeants to get Browning Automatic Rifles and take ammo to the roof. He tells the other enlisted men to get ready and wait by their bunks. He grabs a cook and says make a pot of coffee, no make a barrel of coffee. Even with planes attacking the corporal refuses to issue ammo. Warden has the men break down the door. Warden and the other Sergeants go to the roof to shoot at Japanese planes. They bring down at least one. Warden is hip firing a 50-caliber with his hand on the barrel. There are some nice cuts of the real attack on Pearl Harbor cut in.
That night Prewitt gets dressed and heads back to the base, even though there is a curfew, a blackout, and martial law. The guards are really nervous expecting a land attack to follow. As Prewitt runs across a golf course, a guard calls for him to halt and then fires. He is shot and falls dead into the sand trap. We Warden finds out he says Prewitt was a good soldier. Warden looks at Prewitt’s bugle mouthpiece and laments about him being a hard head and not boxing. Because of the attack, the boxing tournament will be canceled anyway.
Some weeks later Alma and Karen meet on a ship leaving for the states. Karen throws two leis in the water. She says if they float inland you will return to the islands. Alma says she will never come back. Karen then says her fiancé was in the Army Air Corp and was killed during the attack. She says his Silver Star went to his mother and they were very fine southern folks. When she says the name Robert E. Lee Prewitt, Karen makes the connection and knows Alma is lying. She doesn’t say anything as Alma hold Prewitt’s bugle mouthpiece.
The book really had to be sanitized of homosexuality and language before they could get the Army’s support to make this movie. Also, the cat houses had to be changed to gentlemen’s clubs.
Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Studios wanted Aldo Ray for Prewitt, Robert Mitchum or Edmond O’Brien for Warden, Rita Hayworth for Karen, Julie Harris for Lorene, and Eli Wallach to play Maggio. That would be awesome.
Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift were both nominated for the best actor Oscar, but how could you decide. So, William Holden won for his great performance in Stalag 17 (1953). His wife said this was a prize for not winning for Sunset Blvd. (1950) when he deserved it. Ouch.
World-Famous Short Summary – soldiers, and hookers, and jailers, oh my or two drunken soldiers try to find happiness with prostitutes and broken women
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Beware the moors