Saturday, May 30, 2015

Movie Watch: From Here to Eternity (1953)

I like to think I've seen my fair share of movies, but, not so much.  For example, I'd never seen the sweeping 1953 World War II-era drama From Here to Eternity.

The picture is by and for the generation that had just endured World War II, and takes maybe a little more work to watch and appreciate for those of us born a couple of generations later.  Add in 60 years of movies lightly riffing off of this film, spoofing it, etc... and much of it may not feel all that fresh on a first viewing in 2015.  But it's a great example of the "(insert career) and the women who love them" model of drama.

The story takes place in Hawaii in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, mostly around an army base as Private Prewitt (played by Montgomery Clift) arrives, newly transferred from a bugle company to a rifle squad of his own volition.  He runs into a pal, Angelo Maggio (Sinatra), who is a bit of a company clown, and is greeted by his new Sergeant, Warden (Burt Lancaster).  Add in Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed as love interests, and you've got a plot.

Prewitt seems to have left his prior company under shadowy circumstances, and he certainly has a hard time making friends.  He also won't play ball and box in the inter-company boxing championship (something he used to be good at).  Meanwhile, Sgt. Warden falls for his Captain's wife, who is caught in a loveless and obviously sexless marriage.  Cue the famous beach make-out scene.  And Prewitt falls for a girl who is either a taxi dancer or hooker, and I'm not sure she's not both.  I'm sure it's more clear in 1953 and/ or the novel.

There's a lot of insinuated off-screen sex occurring, handled tastefully to the point of being antiseptic (noir, for example, handles illicit affairs a bit more brazenly).  And I understand this was the question as the novel, apparently, is fairly clear about all the romantic details.

It's no secret when a movie is about military men in Hawaii in 1941 that, sooner or later, you're going to see Zeroes coming in over the horizon.  The impact of Pearl Harbor, to these eyes, was fascinating.  Everything to this point was immediately upended and shrunk in significance as the shadow of history enveloped the personal relationships and problems of everyone, and some of that is true to the script and some of it is juts my read.  But it's also true that the story pits the characters against that moment, and it's a clear breaking point for everyone - and not something entirely relatable to a generation who has never been asked to make a single sacrifice greater than taking off their shoes at the airport (which, seriously...).

In all honesty, the movie has been borrowed from, the first hour of set-up felt a little slow.  But the second hour, when the pieces come together, was solid.  The movie garnered a number of acting nominations - I believe they said 5 - and Sinatra landed an Oscar for his supporting role.

I dug it well enough, but I also appreciate why the movie resonated in 1953 in a way it might not today.

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