Directed by Austrian-born Fred Zinnemann (1907 – 1997: he originally wanted to be a violinist then, while studying Law, became interested in American film so emigrated) and based on the bestselling novel by James Jones, From Here to Eternity received 13 Oscar nominations and won 8 of them – including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adaptation, Best Support Actor (Frank Sinatra) and Support Actress (Donna Reed).
Many also thought Best Actress should have gone to Deborah Kerr, but she lost out to the new-comer, Audrey Hepburn (in Roman Holiday).
It’s 1941 and Private Robert Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) has requested a transfer. He ends up in Hawaii’s Schofield army barracks hoping for a peaceful time when Captain Holmes discovers that he has some boxing prowess.
The Captain decides that Prewitt must represent the company in an up-coming competition but Prewitt declares he is done with boxing and refuses. Captain Holmes has other ideas, and determines to make Prewitt’s life a misery until the newcomer is brought round to the proper way of thinking.
Clearly Captain Holmes is devoted to the army and so it is no great unsurprise when we discover that his wife Karen (Deborah Kerr) is seeking solace from a failing marriage in the arms of Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster, whose embrace on the beach, right, became the signature image of the film).
Meanwhile, Prewitt’s friend Maggio (Frank Sinatra) is the target of another vendetta and finds himself in a series of run-ins with Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson (Ernest Borgnine), a sadistic bully.
Prewitt meanwhile is falling for Lorene (Donna Reed), who works in the social club (left). If this all sounds like a soap opera, it is thrown into sober relief by the chilling fact that, unbeknownst to anyone, the Japanese are about to bomb Pearl Harbour.
Despite the film opening to rave reviews from critics and public, the Army was reportedly not pleased with its depiction in the finished film, and refused to let its approval be quoted in the opening credits.
From Here to Eternity is crammed with fine performances from many actors in small roles who got their first break hin this film.
Each soldier played by Ernest Borgnine, Robert J. Wilkie, Claude Akins, Jack Warden and Mickey Shaughnessy is imbued with memorable individuality: Borgnine is hateful as the vicious sergeant of the stockade, while Montgomery Clift (right, second from left) is assertive, funny, tough, sensitive and charismatic in the pivotal role of Prewitt.
As a rebellious loner with the streak of nobility, he manages to inform his role with a sense of purpose that goes beyond the more two-dimensional rebel characters that would come to dominate the 1950s (famously typified by James Dean and Marlon Brando).
Up to now Frank Sinatra, having risen to fame as a singer on stage and radio across the USA and having made films that were mainly musicals (Ship Ahoy, 1942; Anchors Aweigh, 1945, and On the Town with Gene Kelly, 1949), found his singing career in decline. Both Double Dynamite (1951), an RKO Irving Cummings comedy produced by Howard Hughes, and Joseph Pevney’s Meet Danny Wilson (1952) failed to make an impression and the New York World Telegram and Sun ran the headline “Gone on Frankie in ’42; Gone in ’52”.
Having no contract with either a record or film company, Sinatra sought to re-kindle his film career by going for serious roles, auditioning for and winning the role of Maggio. He was rewarded with an Oscar and more serious roles would come (notably in The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955). He later became a producer and even directed (None But the Brave, 1965).
The film poster (right) may have boasted that the “boldest book of our time” was now “honestly, fearlessly on the screen” but some controversial details of the novel were changed for the film to satisfy the censors – and also the U.S. Army (who had allowed location shooting at Schofield Barracks and provided military footage of Pearl Harbour).
Instead of being a prostitute, for example, Lorene became a hostess at a private social club. In addition, a hysterectomy caused by an STD in the novel becomes the result of a miscarriage in the film. Similarly, in the novel, several enlisted men fraternize with homosexuals and one soldier even commits suicide because of this. But in the film homosexuality is not mentioned at all.
Also, while Captain Holmes is transferred out of the company in the novel, the film changed this at the insistence of the Army, so that Holmes is forced to resign under threat of court-martial for his ill-treatment of a soldier.
The Army also required that the abuse of Maggio should not be shown on-screen and so it was simply refered to and the violence occurs off-screen. It was required that Judson’s behaviour towards Maggio should be portrayed as “a sadistic anomaly and not as the result of Army policy as depicted in Jones’ book”. The Army was further appeased by having the film suggest that Maggio’s death was caused not by Judson’s beatings but by his falling off a truck during a prison break.
The poster’s claims of “honestly and fearlessly” were thus somewhat exaggerated.
The film’s title originally comes from a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 poem Gentlemen-Rankers, about soldiers of the British Empire who had “lost [their] way” and were “damned from here to eternity.”
In 2002 From Here to Eternity was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”