Oscar: Best Picture–From Here to Eternity (1953)

p_14610.jpgJames Jones’s “From Here to Eternity,” a book about the public and private lives in an Army base, was a best-seller before Fred Zinnemann adapted it to the big screen in a mature, poignant, well-acted drama.
Daniel Taradash’s fine screenplay contains half a dozen sharply etched characterizations, including Burt Lancaster’s Sergeant Warden, an efficient but human officer; Clift’s Prewitt, an inner-directed man, guided by his own code of ethics; Frank Sinatra’s Maggio, the cocky but honest Italian-American soldier; Deborah Kerr’s Karen Holmes, the frustrated adulterous wife married to a weakling (Philip Ober), and Donna Reed’s Alma, a dance-hall hostess.
Zinnemann’s restrained direction was excellent, bringing to the surface the film’s issues, which, as the critic Pauline Kael observed, represented new attitudes on the American screen that touched a social nerve. “From Here to Eternity” is honest in treating career problems, personal frustrations, and most important of all, sexuality.  The erotically-charged beach scene with Lancaster and Kerr was highly daring and innovative at the time and is still interesting to watch; like other iconic images, it has been imitated and parodied to death.
p_14608.jpgSet in Hawaii prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the novel captures the essence of military life in all its complexity and detail, centering on the conflict between individualism, embodied by Montgomery Clift’s Private Prewitt, and rigid institutional authority, represented by the Army. Prewitt refuses to fight for the unit’s team despite promises for rewards and then pressures from his officer, having once blinded a man in the ring. A stubborn yet decent soldier, he admires the Army, but is unwillingly to compromise his notion that “if a man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin,'” which sums up the film’s message as well as director’s Zinnemann’s favorite cinematic theme.
From_Here_to_Eternity_Donna_Reed_2In 1953, “From Here to Eternity” was nominated for Best Picture along with two historical features, “Julius Caesar” and “The Robe,” George Stevens’s classic Western “Shane,” and William Wyler’s elegant comedy “Roman Holiday,” which made a star out of Audrey Hepburn.
Nominated for thirteen awards, the movie won eight, the largest number of awards for a film since “Gone with the Wind.” “The industry which voted the honors now merits an appreciative nod,” wrote the N.Y. Times critic Bosley Crowther with enthusiasm, having convinced his colleagues earlier to honor the film, director Zinnemann and actor Lancaster with the New York Film Critic Awards.
From_Here_to_Eternity_Donna_Reed_1The casting and acting by each member of the cast was perfect, partly due to the fact that Zinnemann rehearsed the entire film with props, an uncommon practice in Hollywood which gave the actors a sense of continuity. All five players were nominated, with Burt Lancaster and Montgmoery Clift canceling each other out as Best Actors (the winner was William Holden for Billy Wilder’s prison drama, “Stalag l7”), but the film honored its two Supporting Actors, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.
Detailed Plot

p_14607.jpgIt’s 1941 and career soldier Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers to a company at Schofield Barracks on the Oahu Island. Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Philip Ober), knowing he is a middleweight boxer, wants him to join his boxing team. Prewitt refuses, having blinded his sparring partner and close friend a year before. Holmes is adamant, but so is Prewitt.

Holmes tortures Prewitt, hoping he will give in. He orders First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) to prepare a court martial after Sergeant Galovitch (John Dennis) insults Prewitt and gives unreasonable orders Prewitt refuses to obey. Warden suggests to get Prewitt to change his mind by doubling up on company punishment. Warden’s goal is actually to prevent court martial for a career soldier. The other officers assist in the conspiracy, and Prewitt is supported by his only friend, Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra).

From_Here_to_Eternity_Donna_Reed_4Warden begins an affair with Holmes’ neglected wife Karen (Deborah Kerr), knowing that the penalty for the affair is a 20-year prison sentence. Sergeant Maylon Stark (George Reeves) has told Warden about Karen’s previous affairs at Fort Bliss, including one with him. Under pressure, Karen relates that Holmes has been unfaithful most of their marriage. She suffered miscarriage, when Holmes returned home from seeing a hat-check girl, drunk and unable to call a doctor; as a result, she is unable to have children.

p_14605.jpgPrewitt and Maggio spend their nights off at the New Congress Club, where Prewitt falls for Lorene (Donna Reed). She wants to marry a “proper” man with a “proper” job and live a “proper” life. Maggio and Staff Sergeant James R. Judson (Ernest Borgnine) argue at the club over Judson’s loud piano playing, which interferes with Maggio’s dancing.

Judson provokes Maggio by taking his photo of his sister, kissing it, and whispering in Prewitt’s ear. Maggio smashes a barstool over Judson’s head. Judson pulls a switchblade, but Warden intervenes. Warden breaks a beer bottle as a weapon, causing Judson to back down. However, Judson warns Maggio that he will end up in the stockade, where Judson is the Sergeant of the Guard.

or7hvhjoxaoKaren tells Warden that if he became an officer, she would divorce Holmes and marry him. Warden gives Prewitt a weekend pass, and he goes to see Lorene. Maggio then walks in drunk, having deserted his post. The military police arrest Maggio, and he is sentenced to six months in Judson’s stockade.

When Sergeant Galovitch picks a fight with Prewitt, he refuses to fight back, then resorts to body blows. His fighting spirit re-emerges, and Prewitt comes close to knocking Galovitch out before Holmes stops the fight. The incident is witnessed by the base commander, who orders investigation by the Inspector General. After Holmes’ real motives are disclosed, the commander orders a court-martial. When Holmes begs for alternative, an aide suggests that Holmes resign his commission. Holmes’ replacement, Captain Ross (John Bryant), reprimands the others involved and has the boxing team’s framed photos and trophies removed. He then demotes Galovitch to private and puts him in charge of the latrine.

Maggio escapes the stockade and dies in Prewitt’s arms after telling of Judson’s brutal abuse. Prewitt tracks Judson down and kills him with the switchblade Judson pulled on Maggio earlier, but sustained serious stomach wound. Prewitt goes into hiding at Lorene’s house. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Prewitt  wishes to rejoin his company, but is shot dead by a patrol. Ironically, the boxing tournament has been cancelled because of the attack.

When Karen finds out that Warden did not apply for officer training, she realizes they have no future. She returns to the mainland with her husband. Lorene and Karen meet on the ship, and Lorene relates how her fiancé was a bomber pilot heroically killed during the attack. Karen recognizes Prewitt’s name, but keeps silent, letting Lorene’s myth prevail.

Oscar Nominations: 12
Picture, produced by Buddy Adler
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash
Actor: Burt Lancaster
Actor: Montgomery Clift
Actress: Deborah Kerr
Supporting Actor: Frank Sinatra
Supporting Actress: Donna Reed
Cinematography (b/w): Burnett Guffey
Costume Design (b/w): Jean Louis
Film Editing: William Lyon
Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy): Moris Stoloff and George Dunning
Sound Recording: John P. Livadary
Oscar Awards: 8
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actress
Oscar Context
In 1953, “From Here to Eternity” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with two historical dramas, “Julius Caesar” and “The Robe,” a romantic comedy “Roman Holiday,” and a Western, “Shane.”
Each of the five nominees received at least one Oscar, and “Roman Holiday,” 3, including one for Motion Picture Story, Ian McLellan Hunter, who served as a front for blacklisted Dalton Trumbo; Trumbo got his award in 1992.
Burt Lancaster as First Sergeant Milton Warden

Montgomery Clift as Private Robert E. Lee “Prew” Prewitt

Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes

Donna Reed as Alma “Lorene” Burke

Frank Sinatra as Private Angelo Maggio

Philip Ober as Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes

Mickey Shaughnessy as Corporal Leva

Harry Bellaver as Private First Class Mazzioli

Ernest Borgnine as Staff Sergeant James R. “Fatso” Judson

Jack Warden as Corporal Buckley

John Dennis as Sergeant Ike Galovitch

Merle Travis as Private Sal Anderson

Tim Ryan as Sergeant Pete Karelsen

Arthur Keegan as Treadwell

Barbara Morrison as Mrs. Kipfer

George Reeves as Sergeant Maylon Stark

Claude Akins as Sergeant ‘Baldy’ Dhom

Alvin Sargent as Nair

Robert  J. Wilke as Sergeant Henderson

Carleton Young as Colonel Ayres