The opportunity to revisit the 1953 Best Picture Oscar winner From Here to Eternity on a Maui movie theater screen is as much an event for film buffs as it is a homecoming for this classic drama.
Montgomery Clift stars as Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a soldier and bugler based at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Prewitt immediately distinguishes himself from the other soldiers by refusing to take part in the unit’s boxing team. An intrigued sergeant (Burt Lancaster) observes Prewitt’s sustained defiance and also hits on his captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr).
Director Fred Zinnemann also made the essential western High Noon, the musical Oklahoma!, the 1967 Best Picture winner A Man For All Seasons, the assassination thriller The Day of the Jackal, the Jane Fonda/Meryl Streep drama Julia and, his last movie, the Sean Connery drama Five Days One Summer. Zinnemann died in 1997 at the age of 89 and From Here to Eternity is his best film.
Lancaster was a movie star in the same caliber as Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas and Clark Gable. Piercingly handsome but vulnerable, muscular and athletic but sympathetic in any role and holding the frame like few other actors, Lancaster is among the most magnetic actors to ever grace the screen. Yet, despite how good he is here, the movie belongs to Clift and Frank Sinatra. Clift gives a commanding turn and makes Prewitt’s tortured journey achingly real. On the other hand, Sinatra steals every scene he’s in and absolutely owns his Oscar-winning role. Of course, The Chairman of the Board also played a soldier in The Manchurian Candidate, his best movie, but his turn here as Maggio is no less dynamic. Good luck taking your eyes off of Donna Reed, who’s mesmerizing in the Oscar-winning role of the prostitute who takes up with Prewitt. There isn’t a bad performance in the ensemble cast, which also includes wonderful turns by Jack Warden and Ernest Borgnine.
Many have noted that the film is a toned-down adaptation of the 1951 James Jones novel. This distinction makes it sound like the film is tame but that isn’t the case. If you haven’t seen From Here to Eternity in, well, an eternity, you may have forgotten how sexy and funny it is. More importantly, the movie can be gritty and focuses on dual love stories that are more bittersweet than swoon worthy.
The legendary love scene, with Lancaster and Kerr kissing passionately on the beach at Halona Cove, is a great example of the film’s dramatic power. The iconic moment is still rapturous but the famous kiss is immediately followed by Kerr’s heartbreaking confession. Make no mistake, this is a tough-hearted movie. The climactic attack on Pearl Harbor sequence is another stunner, conveying large scale tragedy over spectacle.
How influential is From Here to Eternity? It’s the granddad of films like An Officer and a Gentleman, the vastly inferior Pearl Harbor and Hacksaw Ridge (which shares the central plot point of a soldier who, for a different reason, refuses to fight). The aforementioned kiss scene is arguably the most famous in cinema and was hilariously parodied in Airplane!
Much of the movie was filmed at Schofield Barracks itself. Despite scenes taking place at Kuhio Beach Park and Diamond Head, the movie has practically no locals in the cast and very little Hawaiian music. While it lacks local authenticity, it offers a complex depiction of beautiful men and women bearing wounded hearts and painful secrets.
The film reportedly had two premieres: one in Hollywood, with Lancaster and Kerr in attendance, while the other took place at our own Iao Theater. Sinatra and Ava Gardner attended the Maui premiere. Fittingly, From Here to Eternity is once again playing on a Maui movie theater screen and it’s still a masterpiece.
From Here to Eternity plays at the Maui Mall Megaplex on Sunday, Dec. 11 and Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 2pm and 7pm.
Photo courtesy Raoul Luoar/Flickr