In 1953, From Here to Eternity took the world by storm, going on to win eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Not a bad haul for a film based on a book that was considered quite controversial at the time due to language and its painting of the military in a bad light. To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the film is being given an upgrade to Blu-Ray so that a whole new generation can continue enjoying it for years to come.
That being said, it’s rather curious to see how the film holds up nowadays. It’s been over ten years since I first saw it, with my vague memories of it being mostly positive, but was there a reason that I didn’t see it again for so long? Well, this brand new edition is the perfect opportunity to go back and revisit what many consider to be a classic, directed by the great Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, High Noon).
The film takes place at an Army base on Hawaii in 1941. Robert E. Lee Pruitt (Montgomery Clift) has just transferred from a bugle corps and is now under the command of Captain Holmes (Philip Ober). Holmes reveals that he pulled a few strings to have Pruitt assigned to his company because he knew of his skills as a boxer, a hobby that Pruitt has since sworn off of. Because of his firm refusal to take it up again, the men of the company start to make his life hell in hopes that he’ll change his mind.
Meanwhile, we also get to know the Captain’s assistant, Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), who practically runs the base. When the Captain’s wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr), comes seeking her husband, she happens to meet Warden, igniting a kind of spark between them. We learn that the Captain hasn’t been faithful in the past and that their marriage is on rocky ground, which is all the excuse Karen and the Sergeant need to start up an affair. Even with his “treatment” going on, Pruitt still finds time for a little romance of his own when he meets Alma (Donna Reed), a girl who works at the local club. Little did they know that they were all just mere months away from one of the most shocking events in American history.
Looking at the film again today, much of it holds up pretty well. The most intriguing storyline it has to offer involves members of Pruitt’s company trying to get him to box again so that their team would have a better chance of winning. The other two storylines are what hold the film back somewhat. The relationship between Warden and Karen has its risks, what with her being the wife of a Captain and Warden’s CO no less, but for the most part it drags the film into melodramatic territory that slows the pacing down even more than it was before.
The same thing happens with the romance between Pruitt and Alma. There’s so much unnecessary drama crammed into it that it becomes a bit over the top. This is why the boxing storyline ends up being the most engaging of the three. We begin to wonder how much of the “treatment” Pruitt is willing to undergo before he gives in, or if he will ever give in at all. What makes it even better is the intermingled substory of Angelo (Frank Sinatra), a friend of Pruitt’s who eventually has some interesting happenings of his own.
What stands up best about the film today are the outstanding performances from the entire cast, particularly those from Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, and Deborah Kerr. It comes as no surprise that all five of them were nominated for Oscars, with Sinatra and Reed winning theirs. Lancaster has a very strong presence, partially playing the observer, while at other times playing the seducer. Even though his performance, along with those of Reed and Kerr, slip into melodrama on occasion, it remains a very confident and enjoyable performance. Clift has to remain strong in the face of all the adversity he faces, but he does it with great determination, delivering an equally powerful performance. Let’s not forget about Sinatra in his career-resurrecting performance. His part may be somewhat small, but it’s more than enough to leave an impact.
The other memorable part of the film is saved for about the last 15 minutes, that of course being the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s a stunning set of sequences that becomes even more so when you remember that they had to do it all for real 60 years ago, no taking shortcuts with a computer. Those were real planes flying by in the sky, with real charges going off. Now the thing is the film runs about two hours, which makes me wish that they would have incorporated the attack into it a lot sooner than they did. It would have made for a little more excitement and perhaps would have drowned out a little of that melodrama that holds it down.
Despite its few issues, From Here to Eternity remains decent overall after all these years. Would I have voted for it as the best film of 1953? I find myself thinking that I probably wouldn’t have, especially with films like Shane, Julius Caesar, and Stalag 17 coming out the same year. Even though the film is a bit over the top emotionally, the performances are what most will remember and are what still make the film worth checking out today.
Taking a brief look at the specs, the film is presented in a 1.33:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that does a great job of making the film look better than it ever has. This is another one of those classic releases that has the picture boxed in on all sides, presenting a kind of shrunken picture, but once again it doesn’t hurt the overall enjoyment of it. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA is pristine, giving it audio on the same level as its excellent visuals.
The following special features are included on the disc:
- Eternal History: Graphics-in-Picture Track
- Audio Commentary from Tim Zinnemann and Alvin Sargent
- The Making of From Here to Eternity
- Excerpt from “Fred Zinnemann: As I See It”
The commentary features Fred Zinneman’s son, as well as a colleague who had worked with him, discussing how the film came to be and other various topics in relation to it. It’s very informative for those looking to learn more about it. Likewise, the “Eternal History” track gives you various facts about the film while you’re watching it, so you basically get two different ways to find out about it.
The “Making of” featurette is not really much of a “Making of” at all. It’s pretty much a two-minute promo with a little behind the scenes video, but it also just features a lot of footage from the film. The Zinnemann featurette is a small part of an interview with the director. It’s fascinating to watch, but unfortunately half of this excerpt is taken up with footage from the film as well.
Overall, the extras are pretty good. The only one I would say isn’t really worth your time is the mislabeled “Making of,” but it’s only two minutes, so even if you did want to give it a go, you’re not wasting much time.
With the decent film looking and sounding better than it ever has before and a quality set of informative special features, this 60th anniversary Blu-ray release of From Here To Eternity is definitely worth taking a look at whether it’s your first time with the film or not.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Despite sliding into melodrama a bit too often, From Here to Eternity remains a decent film due to the strong performances of its Oscar-nominated cast.