By all rights, I should have watched this movie last week, when it was all Fifties movies, all the time. It's one of those universally beloved classics I've never seen that I'm very glad to cross off the list. Based on the 1952 award-winning James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity is about soldiers based in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The central character is Private Hewitt (Montgomery Clift), a talented bugler and former boxer whom his superior officers try to pressure to fight again for their club. When he declines, they put the heat on him in various sadistic ways. Meanwhile, Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) begins an affair with his captain's neglected wife (Deborah Kerr), and another private (Frank Sinatra) gets into a pissing contest with a bigoted sergeant, played by Ernest Borgnine.
The movie is engrossing, with numerous tragic elements; as frequently happens with these older movies, all of the lead characters are chain-smoking, which tends to distract me—it ends up seeming like one giant cigarette advertisement. The movie contains the famous scene of Lancaster and Kerr making out on the beach at twilight as the tide splashes all around them. Overall, it's a very somber and sad story—I can appreciate why people were so enamored of it in 1953, relatively soon after WWII and directly after the Korean war. What made the biggest impression for me (again, as often happens in these older movies) is observing how the gritty events of the book are diluted for movie version. For example, Donna Reed plays a dance-hall hostess, but clearly she must have been a prostitute in the book. Ironically, the climax of the movie involves Reed having to retell her own sanitized version of certain events in the story to Kerr's character! Rating: 4/5.