Well, finally, in my 50th year, I got round to watching ‘From Here To Eternity’. I’m in love with Frank Sinatra’s music but, for some reason, it had never occured to me to watch the movies. James Kaplan’s superb two-volume Sinatra biography (‘Frank: The Voice’ [aka, in the UK, ‘Frank: The Making Of A Legend’] and ‘Sinatra: The Chairman’) put me on the right tracks.
I melted into the film – it pressed all my buttons, drama, sadness, comedy (Frank dancing in the New Congress Club to the beat of “Fatso’s” [Ernest Borgnine’s] piano playing), love and it’s a major weepy: Hollywood stars….when guys was guys and dames was dames!
Frank Sinatra (‘Private Angelo Maggio’): glorious! Perfectly cast….and to think that Frank so nearly didn’t get the part! Frank encapsulates so many character elements, the outsider yet he is one of the guys, he has self confidence and yet is so obviously sensitive and emotionally brittle, physically slightly built, a little guy, and yet as tough as old boots. There can be no doubting that Frank drew on his personal experiences growing up when he immersed himself in the role! One can only begin to imagine how wildly “Wop!” reverberated in Frank’s head when ‘Fatso’ was egging him on in the fight scene in the bar.
Montgomery Clift (‘Prew’): I can’t add anything, it has all been said…he had it all. If anyone wants to be an actor, thinks he/she has got what it takes, watch this movie, watch Clift and then think again, then ask yourself if you can act. A superb performance! Isn’t this great? I watch this clip over and over and over again and smile each and every time:
How his performance did not earn him an Academy Award, I do not know (he was never awarded an Oscar, nominated four times, but never won…I’m ‘sure’ that, had he not tragically died so young, he’d have won a bucket-full. I should watch ‘Stalag 17’ – one of my favourite actors, William Holden, won the ‘Best Actor’ Oscar in 1954 so I guess it was just unfortunate timing for Clift and Lancaster….tough coming up against Bill Holden!!). The scene near the end, ‘Prew’ on bugle, tears streaming down his face (I won’t say why, don’t want this to be a ‘spoiler’)…brilliant, heartbreaking! GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHY (for which Burnett Guffey won an Oscar):
Deborah Kerr (‘Karen Holmes’): when she walks across the barracks courtyard to speak to Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster)….what a woman! – and when she turns round and walks away after talking to Warden…what a temptress! Of course, she is a broken women, so in need of love, comfort and security and, oh, how she wants Warden!! If you haven’t seen the movie, I defy you not to watch it after you have watched this…
Donna Reed (‘Alma’/’Lorene’): I have an admission to make…I haven’t seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” – there, I’ve said it! I knew of Donna Reed but, before watching ‘From Here To Eternity’, I hadn’t seen her in a movie. Look, I know, when all’s said and done, this movie is, contrary to what was no doubt intended by Columbia, it’s principally a Frank movie, or perhaps more precise to say that it became known as such (Frank won the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Oscar and, career-wise, he never looked back) but it’s also a Donna Reed movie (she won the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar). She is wonderful, gorgeous, dreamy, so loveable and yet she’s the ‘girl next door’, homely, so comforting, and comfortable, for ‘Prew’. That smile! What she looks like, lying on the chaise longue in Mrs. Kipfer’s (she’s a great character) private room, the lighting on her face…beautiful! The kiss, ‘Prew’ and ‘Alma’, the ‘From Here To Eternity’ music hovering – love is….
Burt Lancaster (‘First Sergeant Milton Warden’): they don’t make ’em like that any more! The archetypal Hollywood ‘hunk’, toughness personified but with a heart. This is a great scene (no small thanks to Ernest Borgnine!)…that stance when he steps into the fray, the presence of the man, superb:
I could go on, could carry on waxing lyrical about this film but just in case there is someone out there who still hasn’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil it for them.
The 8 Academy Awards, including ‘Best Movie’ (Buddy Adler, producer) and ‘Best Director’ (Fred Zinnemann) stand as testament to the greatness of the film but I guess that the ultimate accolade is the movie’s selection in 2002 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
I said earlier in this blog that this movie, if it wasn’t originally intended by Harry Cohn (President of Columbia Pictures) and Buddy Adler to be a Frank Sinatra movie, a vehicle on which he could get his career back on track, well, it did become that vehicle but it is so much more than that – it wouldn’t have found itself preserved in the National Film Library, preserved as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” if that was all it was, a vehicle to showcase Frank’s talents. There was an alignment of stars (no pun intended) which produced the magic that is this special movie: in no particular order, the actors/actresses, the acting, the directing, that music (!!!), the time (only 8 years after the end of WWII), the screenplay, the cinematography, everything, the perfect mix of the perfect ingredients.
‘From Here To Eternity’ is not just one of THE great movies, it is one of MY favourites!