pauline kael: a life in the dark
sports in the age of terrorism

#37: from here to eternity (fred zinnemann, 1953)

(This is the 14th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

The key to From Here to Eternity, for me, is the acting, or rather, the casting and the subsequent acting. Five different actors from the film got Oscar nominations, and every one was deserved. Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed were cast against type, which is often good for an Oscar nomination even if the acting is poor. But in this case, it worked. Kerr’s image as a proper British lady offered an interesting subtext to her role as a military wife with a bad marriage and a roving eye, and her love scenes smoldered. Reed’s wholesome image helped make her “dance partner” seem acceptable to the censors, and she used it to effectively reveal the woman underneath the prostitute.

Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra was great in his career-saving role as Maggio (no, the story from The Godfather isn’t really true, but this is the movie that supposedly inspired the horse’s head). And Montgomery Clift brought his usual bruised intensity to his role … he made hard-headedness seem somehow sensitive.

Best of all is Burt Lancaster. I admit he is a favorite of mine, and I always admired his willingness to stretch, to take on different roles. His skills don’t always match what his roles require, though, so Lancaster has been miscast in more movies than I can count. But when he’s properly cast, there is no one more dynamic. Here, he is an athletic man of action, a Sergeant who understands his men and his superiors, and knows how to work them all effectively. He’s fine in his quieter moments, when he’s romancing Kerr or getting drunk with Clift, but it’s when he swings into action that we see Lancaster at his very best. He jumps into a scene the way violence shows up in a Scorsese film … you aren’t expecting it, and suddenly, there it is. Two men start a fight in a bar. Lancaster, who has been sitting back nursing a beer, leaps between them and takes command of the situation. When the Pearl Harbor attack occurs and everyone is running around like lunatics, it’s Lancaster who jumps onto a pool table and starts giving orders. It’s thrilling in ways that other action stars of his era could only dream of achieving.


Not much in the way of comments for this one. One person mentioned that they had read the book and couldn’t imagine how anyone could get it all into a movie. The most interesting thing since this was first posted is that we went to Hawaii and visited “The Beach”.


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