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From Here to Eternity

Memorial Day Weekend is always a great time to revisit classic war films. They don't get any bigger than 1953's Best Picture winner FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

An all-star cast and Director Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, Day of the Jackal) brought James Jones massive novel to the screen. At the time, the hugely popular novel was considered too profane and adult to ever be adapted. By today's standards, it's fairly calm, but there's enough drama for two films.

All the drama takes place on a US Army Base on Hawaii late in 1941 as the attack on Pearl Harbor looms.

Burt Lancaster (Airport, The Train) is Sgt. Warden, who runs a tight ship, often covering the loose reins of his boss, Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober).

Warden is falling for the Captain's wife, Karen, seductively played by Deborah Kerr (The Gypsy Moths, The King and I, An Affair To Remember).

Meanwhile, a newly arrived Private to the squad, Prewitt, seems to have been recruited for his skills as a boxer, but his boxing days are done. Captain Holmes cares more about his staged boxing matches than the military and is determined to convince Prewitt to box. Montgomery Clift (Giant) is terrific as Prewitt. Closed off, quiet and in his own head, he only opens up when he meets local club girl Lorena. In the mid-50's, "club girl" was a nice way of saying prostitute, hence the controversy. In a fascinating bit of casting, goody-goody TV star Donna Reed plays Lorena. She's very good in the unexpected role and took home an Oscar.

At the film's center is Frank Sinatra as Angelo Maggio who bonds with Prewitt and seems to be the only one who can loosen the new man up. There were many rumors that the mob leveraged Columbia Pictures to hire Sinatra for the part, which of course led to a major plot point in Mario Puzo's "The Godfather". In reality, Sinatra was in the middle of his breakup with Ava Gardner and she suggested to studio heads that Sinatra would be great in the part.

Sinatra won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, reigniting his film career.

By today's standards, it's hard to even see what was so controversial, but the elements of sadistic bullying, prostitution and corruption still emotionally mount up by the film's end.

Ernest Borgnine (The Poseidon Adventure, Emperor of the North) is brutal as Fatso, a stockade sergeant out for revenge against Sinatra's Maggio.

A very young Jack Warden (Heaven Can Wait) is great as Corporal Buckley, one of Warden's trusted assistants.

Bordering on soap opera territory, especially in the early scenes of Lancaster and Kerr's flirtations, Zinnemann treats everything with his usual professionalism. That famous scene with the two rolling in the surf was heavily censored at the time and considered shocking!

As all of our characters reach the peak of their story arcs, the calendar slides into Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the base is a mixture of scenes shot for the film and actual footage of the attack just a dozen years before the film's release.

Compared to Michael Bay's $100M+ special effects extravaganza "Pearl Harbor", the attack pales in power, but the human drama is no less effective.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, the film won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Reed), Best Director (Zinnemann), Best Screenplay (Daniel Tarradash), Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Editing.

A War classic worth revisiting, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY gets a solid B.

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