This first-rate, compelling drama about army life in Hawaii on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor comes across with power and passion, thanks to sterling performances and taut direction. Heavy on sex, soap opera and sentimentality, the movie took the public by storm.
Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, and Deborah Kerr head the cast, but the supporting performances of Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed highlight the film.
Sinatra, who had alienated fans with an adulterous affair with Ava Gardner, had also blown his voice out courtesy of a vocal cord haemorrhage. He was subsequently dropped by his record label and talent agency and was widely considered to be washed up.
This role – which he took for a measly salary of $8,000 a week – completely turned his career around. Sinatra channelled three years of defeat and despair into a career-saving performance that culminated in Montgomery Clift’s arms and Variety declared his Oscar win the greatest comeback in showbiz history.
The usually lady-like Deborah Kerr became an overnight sex symbol thanks to the notorious beach scene with Lancaster. US censors banned the use of still images from the scene in the film’s promotion and also cut four seconds of the footage, reputedly because of the suggestive white foam covering their bodies from the crashing waves.
In 1941, Pvt. Robert E. Lee “Prew” Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), a career soldier and bugler, transfers to Company G at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Having heard that Prewitt is a gifted middleweight boxer, Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Philip Ober) tries to convince him to be a part of his team, but Prewitt won’t join the regiment.
Prewitt has given up boxing, in part due to his overwhelming guilt for having injured his sparring partner. In an effort to change his mind, Holmes makes life difficult for the boxer by ordering court-martial papers.
However, First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) suggests using punishment to influence Prewitt. As the other noncommissioned officers (NCOs) follow Holmes’ lead, Prewitt finds his only support in Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra).
To make matters worse, Warden begins a sordid affair with Holmes’ wife Karen (Deborah Kerr). As their relationship deepens, Warden asks Karen about her previous affairs, which have been communicated to him by another officer, to see if she will be honest with him.
Karen admits to multiple infidelities and tells Warden about her miscarriage. She also reveals that Holmes has also had multiple trysts during the course of their marriage. Due to Holmes’ negligence during her medical emergency, Karen cannot bear any more children.
Karen entices Warden with an offer of a future marriage: if Warden attains the title of an officer, then she can divorce Holmes. As he considers this proposal, Warden allows Prewitt the weekend off.
Prewitt visits Lorene (Donna Reed), an escort attempting to move up the social ladder, whom he has come to care for. After a fight breaks out that initiates an internal investigation, Holmes’ scheme against Prewitt is discovered and the base commander orders a court-martial.
Holmes resigns as a result. Maggio, who has been placed in a stockade, escapes only to die moments later next to Prewitt while telling his friend of how Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson (Ernest Borgnine) abused him.
Prewitt reacts by angrily tracking down Judson and killing him with a switchblade. He is wounded during his attack and seeks shelter at Lorene’s house.
The Pearl Harbor attack of 7 December 1941 emboldens Prewitt to return to his company, but he is mistakenly killed by a soldier guarding the fort. Meanwhile, Karen leaves Warden after discovering that he is not applying to become an officer, and boards a boat with her husband back to the mainland.
Lorene and Karen meet on the ship, where Lorene tells Karen about her fiancé. Though Karen recognises Prewitt’s name, she keeps the information to herself.
Released on 5 August 1953 – just nine days after the end of the Korean War – From Here to Eternity proved to be a runaway box office smash. Made for only $2 million, the movie grossed $30.5 million, making it the third top-grossing film of 1953.
Shot with almost documentary realism, the film was a huge success and received Academy Awards in 1953 for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Reed), Screenplay, and Cinematography.
Contrary to the Godfather (1972) horse’s-head-in-a-bed myth, studio chief Harry Cohn cast Sinatra at his wife Joan’s insistence.
First Sergeant Milton Warden
Pvt. Robert E ‘Prew’ Prewitt
Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes
Pvt. Angelo Maggio
Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson