Sixty (!) years ago, Columbia Pictures released Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here To Eternity”. Based on the novel by James Jones, the picture scored thirteen Academy Award nominations and won eight of them… including Best Supporting Actor for Frank Sinatra. It essentially resurrected Ol’ Blue Eyes’ film career, though he had to lobby awfully hard for the part. Remember the horse head in “The Godfather”? That was rumored to be based on Sinatra’s audition. Is that what really happened? Who knows… but he’s good, nonetheless. See for yourself, as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has just released “From Here To Eternity” in dazzling Hi-Definition. If you enjoy classic movies or just want to see “The Chairman” beat Ernest Borgnine with an actual chair, this one’s worth your time.
Set in Hawaii just before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, the film follows three soldiers and their lives in the service. Pvt Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), a talented Bugler and boxer is transferred to Company “G” on Oahu. His reputation preceeding him, Captain Dana Holmes (Phillip Ober) promises Prewitt advancement if he helps the Company win the upcoming Boxing Championship, but he declines the offer. Despite aspirations to be a “thirty year man”, he refuses to set foot in the ring again, having blinded an opponent some years earlier. In retaliation, Captain Holmes does everything he can to make life miserable for Prewitt, even trying at one point to have him court marshalled. Most of the other officers are in on the conspiracy, but First Seargent Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) can see right through it.
You see, Warden is no fan of Holmes. As a matter of fact, he’s begun an affair with his wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr)… an indescretion that carries with it a twenty year sentence in the barracks at Leavenworth if they’re caught. Maybe worse since Holmes is the jealous type. In spite of Karen’s “sketchy” past, their forbidden love grows more intense and the two begin to plot ways to stay together forever…
In the meantime, Prewitt and his only friend Maggio (Frank Sinatra) spend their free time at gentleman’s clubs and bars, just looking for a good time. While Prewitt is busy trying to woo the stunning Lorraine (Donna Reed), Maggio makes enemies with Seargent Judson (Ernest Borgnine), Seargent of the Guard at the stockade. After a fight between the two men is narrowly averted, Judson warns that the day will come when Maggio finds himself in the stockade… and when it does, he better watch out.
Of course, that day does come and all three men are in one giant powderkeg of a situation. When the Japanese fly in that fateful day, they bring with them the spark that blows everything sky high. Can there possibly be any semblence of a happy ending here? Will any of these guys make it out alive?
Considering many libraries banned the book on which the film was based, it’s a little shocking at how the movie shows a little bit of age. Dealing with infidelity, miscarriages, foul language and prostitution, “From Here to Eternity” was rough, edgy and ahead of its time. Sadly, today it seems mostly remembered for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s iconic kiss on the sand as waves wash up around them. This was a gutsy film to make in its day; it was violent, sexy, irreverent and considered unpatriotic because of the way it portrayed the US military. While not much of the film is shocking by today’s standards (except for the fact that people were once allowed to smoke cigarettes in movies *gasp*), there’s no doubt that “From Here to Eternity” paved the way for pictures like “Apocalypse Now”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon”.
The full cast is excellent, especially Deborah Kerr’s nymphomaniac housewife and Sinatra’s scrappy GI. The performances are literally flawless as is Zinnemann’s direction. He effectively builds drama, while throwing in moments of humor to not only give a sense of realism, but to emphasize the heavier moments when the come. Each character is developed as a three dimensional human being, with real emotional depth so you can laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry. You get to feel like you know these people and when that happens in a movie the director has you in the palm of his hand. Daniel Taradash’s moody, yet pitch-perfect script certainly doesn’t hurt, nor does the film’s pacing, which never allows a dull moment.
Sony really went all out with this new 4k transfer. The Blu-Ray looks spectacular in pristine black and white with enough grain to feel like you’re watching an actual film, not some digital projection. The picture is sharp and presented in it’s original 4×3 aspect ratio. The option to watch the film in its original mono is there, but the new 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix is pretty amazing. Dialogue still comes from the center, but music subtly fills the remaining channels. During the attack on pearl harbor, the audio springs to life as planes and explosions make full use of the surround. Sony also didn’t skimp on extras. One of the finest bonus features is a “Graphics in Picture” track, where set stills, factoids and various film critics talk about the making of “From Here to Eternity” pop up in a small window over the feature film. There’s also a commentary track with the director’s son, Tim Zinnemann and one of Zinnemann’s collaborators, Alvin Sargent as well as “As I See It”, a short featurette made up of interview footage with the director intercut with on set footage. There’s also a two minute “Making of” and a collection of vintage lobby cards that come included with the disc.
“From Here to Eternity” scores a solid 3.5 out of 4 angels. A solid drama, with legendary performances, this movie is so much more than that kiss. It may seem a bit over the top by today’s standards, but this is old school Hollywood at its best. If you love classic movies and haven’t seen this one yet, now’s the time. I guarantee it’s never looked this good.