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

James 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.
Set 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.
In 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.
The 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.
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
Picture
Director
Screenplay
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actress
Cinematography
Editing
Sound
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.