skip navigation
From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity(1953)

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (2)

DVDs from TCM Shop

From Here to Eternity Enlisted men in Hawaii fight... MORE > $11.21 Regularly $14.99 Buy Now blu-ray


powered by AFI

teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)


Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a hardheaded individualist who loves the Army, but stubbornly follows his own ethics. When Prewitt is transferred to Honolulu's Schofield Barracks just prior to World War II, his new commander, Captain Holmes, subjects him to harsh treatment for his refusal to use his boxing skills to bring glory to his platoon. Prewitt is rejected by everyone on base except his sergeant, Milt Warden, and the street-smart, rebellious Private Maggio. The intertwining lives of the military men form the central plot of the drama: Warden's affair with Holmes' wife, Karen; Prewitt's love for Alma Lorene, an embittered prostitute hoping for a better life; Maggio's ultimately fatal feud with sadistic Sgt. "Fatso" Judson. The conflicts come to a head on December 7, 1941, when the base and the naval installation at Pearl Harbor are attacked by the Japanese, forcing everyone to put aside their individual desires and grievances to fight a common enemy.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by James Jones
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Editing: William Lyon
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Set Design: Frank Tuttle
Music: George Duning
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Sgt. Milton Warden), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Montgomery Clift (Robert E. Lee Prewitt), Frank Sinatra (Angelo Maggio), Donna Reed (Alma Lorene), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. "Fatso" Judson).


James Jones' sprawling 800-page novel, From Here to Eternity was the book no one thought could be filmed. For one thing, it was a long and complex story that would have taken hours of screen time to fully capture its sprawling narrative. More daunting was its harsh language, its frankness about sex and its portrait of Army life as a brutalizing force that can crush a man's spirit. But after paying $82,000 for the film rights, Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn was determined to complete the project, which became known almost immediately throughout Hollywood as "Cohn's Folly." Script after script was rejected until Cohn at last found what he liked in an adaptation by Daniel Taradash.

The first step was securing the assistance of the U.S. Army, because no film about military life could be effectively made at a reasonable cost without it. The Pentagon's official position was to deny help to any project based on Jones' highly critical book. But producer Buddy Adler, an ex-officer himself, was able to win cautious approval by agreeing to two important changes. First, the brutal treatment handed out to Maggio by Fatso could not be shown, and Fatso's behavior had to be seen as a sadistic anomaly and not the result of Army policy as depicted in Jones' book. Taradash and director Fred Zinnemann didn't mind making that concession and felt that Maggio's death scene in Prewitt's arms would be an even better way to tell that part of the story. They were less than pleased, however, with the second change. In the novel, the villainous Capt. Holmes is promoted to major, a plot point the filmmakers found to be appropriately ironic. But they were forced to write a scene in which the captain is called on the carpet by his superiors and given the choice of resigning from service or facing a court martial. It was, the director would write years later in Fred Zinnemann: An Autobiography, "the worst moment in the film, resembling a recruiting short."
From Here to Eternity involved the casting, a process that provided much advance buzz for an already eagerly awaited movie and which frequently saw Harry Cohn and Fred Zinnemann at odds. Happily for the film and its stars, Zinnemann triumphed over the tyrannical studio boss and gathered one of the most effective and celebrated casts ever assembled in Hollywood. When the book was purchased in 1951, Columbia announced it would be a vehicle for Broderick Crawford, Glenn Ford and John Derek. Those names fell by the wayside in the months it took to come up with a suitable script. Burt Lancaster was then cast perfectly to type as Warden a rugged man's man but also a lover who could capture a woman's desires. There, however, the typecasting stopped.Cohn, of course, wanted to use players already under contract to Columbia, and he thought Aldo Ray would be perfect as Prewitt. Zinnemann balked, and suggested Montgomery Clift, who he had directed in The Search (1948). Cohn thought this an idiotic idea; Clift was no soldier, no boxer and probably a homosexual, he told Zinnemann. That he turned out to be right on all counts didn't deter the director, who seized on Jones' description of Prewitt as a "deceptively slim young man." Cohn relented.

Eli Wallach, known primarily for his stage work at the time, was announced for the role of Maggio. But when Frank Sinatra heard Wallach could not back down on his commitment to do Tennessee Williams' play Camino Real on Broadway, he set about on a relentless campaign for the role. Hard as it may be to imagine today, Sinatra in 1953 was considered washed up. His movie career had faded after a string of 1940s musicals in which he usually played second banana to Gene Kelly. His private reputation suffered from his stormy marriage to screen beauty Ava Gardner and his much-publicized financial problems. And due to the hemorrhaging of his vocal cords, Sinatra's singing days were at least temporarily over. Sinatra barraged Cohn with calls, letters, telegrams, even enlisting his wife's clout. Finally Cohn gave in and agreed to give the singer a shot at the part for a paltry $8,000 salary.

The casting of the female roles proved to be a somewhat contentious affair. Joan Crawford was initially cast as Karen, but depending on whose version you believe, she backed out over either having to take second billing to Lancaster or over her distaste for the costumes designed for the character. Zinnemann quickly seized on the idea of hiring British actress Deborah Kerr, who was usually cast as prim and proper aristocrats, and hardly the image of a smoldering sexpot (like Karen's character in the novel). Likewise, Donna Reed had a wholesome, all-American image totally counter to her role as Alma Lorene, a "dance-hall hostess" in the film, which everyone knew was code for "hooker."

The bold casting turned out to be a major coup for the picture. The performances were almost universally hailed, and the roles turned out to be lucky for all the actors. Kerr broke out of a mold she had been trapped in, opening up her career to a wider range. Sinatra won an Oscar® and found himself back on top after his near-disastrous slump. Although the role didn't do much to change Reed's image permanently, the Oscar she won for it validated her talents and gave her the clout to launch, a few years later, her successful, long-running TV series. As for Clift, he spent long hours, obsessively learning the bugle, military drill procedures and boxing (a skill he never quite mastered). As a result, he received high critical praise for his sensitive portrayal, getting so far into the soul of Prewitt that his work seemed, in the words of a Time magazine review, "behaving rather than acting, an artless-seeming form of art...." Although he was already into the downward spiral of his personal life that would kill him at an early age, with From Here to Eternity, Clift added another performance to a legendary body of work that helped define the tortured outsider anti-hero of the 1950s and influenced a generation of actors to come.

by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

From Here to Eternity inspired a critically acclaimed mini-series of the same name in 1979. It starred William Devane as Warden, Natalie Wood as Karen, Roy Thinnes as Capt. Holmes, Steve Railsback as Prewitt, Joe Pantoliano as Maggio, Peter Boyle as Fatso and in one of her first roles, Kim Basinger as Lorene. The following year it became a short-lived, rather soapy TV series. Devane, Basinger and Thinnes returned in their roles from the mini-series. Barbara Hershey took over the role of Karen, and Don Johnson played the character based on Prewitt, although his name was changed from Robert E. Lee Prewitt to Jefferson Davis Prewitt.

The beach "make-out" scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr was considered very steamy for its time. More than the actual kissing (and the fact that Kerr was on top), censors objected to the water crashing around them and forming rather suggestive white foam over their bodies. The scene has become one of the most famous and recognizable in film history. For many years, tourist buses would make regular stops on the shore in Hawaii to show people the spot where Lancaster and Kerr made love in the waves. It has been spoofed on several occasions, notably in The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Airplane! (1980). It was given a gay twist in Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998), starring Brad Rowe and Will & Grace's Sean Hayes, and parodied by a waterlogged Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in the 1950s TV sketch comedy series, Your Show of Shows.

Director James Ivory made A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998), based on the novel by James Jones' daughter Kaylie Jones. The film is a fictionalized account of the author, starring Kris Kristofferson as Bill Willis, an ex-soldier and hard-drinking writer. Barbara Hershey played his wife. In the TV sitcom Seinfeld, 1940s film noir heavy Lawrence Tierney (who also appeared in Quentin Tarantino's 1992 directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs) played Elaine's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) father, the gruff, macho, hard-drinking ex-military man and famous writer Alton Benes, a character very similar to Jones' image.

Two other books by James Jones have been turned into films: Some Came Running (1958), which starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, and two versions of The Thin Red Line, a sequel of sorts to From Here to Eternity following characters from the original through the war in the Pacific. The 1964 version starred Keir Dullea and Jack Warden and the 1998 version starred George Clooney, James Caviezel and Sean Penn in the role Warden played.

Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) included a character, Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), an Italian-American singer-actor based on Frank Sinatra, who was reputed to have Mafia connections. According to Coppola's film, Fontane came to Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) for career help when studio head Jack Woltz (John Marley, a thinly veiled Harry Cohn) refused to give him a plum part the actor was begging for (much like Sinatra's campaign to be cast in From Here to Eternity). Woltz's mind is changed after Corleone makes him "an offer he can't refuse"; he wakes one morning to find the bloody, severed head of his prize racehorse in his bed. According to Fred Zinnemann's autobiography, "the author of The Godfather was using poetic license," and no such mutilation was part of the casting decision.

by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

The soldier who is killed by strafing Japanese planes at the beginning of the attack on Pearl Harbor was played by Alvin Sargent, who later won an Oscar® for the screenplay of Julia (1977).

The music Montgomery Clift as Prewitt plays on his bugle was dubbed by Manny Klein, who also appeared briefly in the film.

Clift, who normally didn't care about awards, was sure he would receive an Oscar® for his portrayal as Prewitt and became depressed when he lost to William Holden in Stalag 17. From Here to Eternity actually got the most Best Actor votes that year, but they were split between Clift and Burt Lancaster. As a consolation, director Fred Zinnemann gave Clift a miniature gold trumpet mounted like an Academy Award®, a memento the actor treasured the rest of his life.

Frank Sinatra was visiting his wife Ava Gardner on the set of Mogambo (1953) in Africa when he found out he might have a shot at the role of Maggio. He immediately flew back to Hollywood and made a screen test for the part, which turned out to be the scene in which Prewitt meets Maggio and Lorene in the bar after he walks off guard duty. Using olives as dice for a craps game, Sinatra ad-libbed on the spot and the test was so good, director Zinnemann used the scene in the final film.

George Reeves, who was already well known as TV's Superman, can be seen in a few brief scenes as Sergeant Maylon Stark. At some point, a rumor got started that his scenes in the film were edited out because preview audiences found his presence amusing. Of course, there is no truth to this story.

Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn limited the film to a $2 million budget, and he was elated when it grossed $19 million in its first run. It was the second highest-grossing film of the year, behind The Robe and ahead of Shane. From Here to Eternity eventually brought in $80 million for the studio, the biggest moneymaker in Columbia's history up to that point.

Everyone thought Harry Cohn was nuts to open the film in New York's un-air-conditioned Capitol Theater on a sweltering August night. At the time, major films were rarely released in mid-summer. Furthermore, Cohn decided not to do any publicity beyond a full-page ad in the New York Times. At midnight on opening day, August 5, Marlene Dietrich called Fred Zinnemann in Los Angeles to report the theater was full and an extra show had been added for 1:00 a.m. to accommodate the crowds lined up around the block. The theater stayed open around the clock, closing briefly in the morning so janitors could sweep the floor. Ticket sales reached 18,235 for the first day, and net box office receipts totaled $171,674 for the first week, a record for any single theater.

Famous Quotes from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY

Angelo Maggio: Only my friends can call me a little wop!

Karen Holmes: Come back here, Sergeant. I'll tell you the story; you can take it back to the barracks with you. I'd only been married to Dana two years when I found out he was cheating. And by that time I was pregnant. I thought I had something to hope for. I was almost happy the night the pains began. I remember Dana was going to an officers' conference. I told him to get home early, to bring the doctor with him. And maybe he would have... if his "conference" hadn't been with a hat-check girl! He was drunk when he came in at 5 AM. I was lying on the floor. I begged him to go for the doctor, but he fell on the couch and passed out. The baby was born about an hour later. Of course it was dead. It was a boy. But they worked over me at the hospital, they fixed me up fine, they even took my appendix out -- they threw that in free.
Sergeant Milton Warden: Karen...
Karen Holmes: And one more thing: no more children. Sure I went out with men after that. And if I'd ever found one that...
Sergeant Milton Warden: Karen, listen to me, listen.
Karen Holmes: I know. Until I met you I didn't think it was possible either.

Robert E. Lee "Prew' Prewitt: Nobody ever lies about being lonely.

Robert E. Lee "Prew' Prewitt: A man don't go his own way, he's nothing.
Sergeant Milton Warden: Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

Robert E. Lee "Prew' Prewitt: Well, what am I? I'm a private no-class dogface. The way most civilians look at that, that's two steps up from nothin'.

Sergeant Maylon Stark: Leva tells me you've been eyeing the Captain's wife like a hound dog at hunting time.

Alma: Prew, it's true we love each other now, we need each other, but back in the States it might be different.

Alma: Sit down and -- and get comfortable. I'll make you a martini and see what's to cook for dinner.
Robert E. Lee "Prew' Prewitt: Hey, this is like being married, ain't it?
Alma: It's better.

by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

James Jones' experiences in the peacetime Army provided the inspiration for his first novel, From Here to Eternity. When the book was published in 1951, it set off a critical storm. Some slammed it for its blue language, violence and candid sexuality; many others hailed its vitality and boldness. The novel earned the National Book Award and sold 90,000 copies within a month of publication. But few thought it could successfully be made into a movie. Nevertheless, it was snatched up by Columbia Pictures for $82,000.

The novel quickly established Jones as an important American writer. The author intended it to be the first in a trilogy on World War II and soldiering, although this book is much more about the soldiering than the war, ending as it does with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance into the war. (The trilogy was completed with The Thin Red Line in 1962 and Whistle in 1978.) Jones said the book was written to focus on one of the most important steps in the evolution of a military man the transition from individuality to being an anonymous part of a unified fighting team. Although softening Jones' criticism of the Army, the movie somewhat retained his depiction of the struggle Prewitt, Warden and Maggio wage against the corruption of the upper ranks. But the film did nail the theme of military evolution, particularly in the character of Prewitt. At the beginning of the story, he stonewalls his superior's demand for him to compete in boxing matches, clinging fiercely to his motto, "A man's gotta go his own way or he's nothin'." But when the base is attacked, Prewitt quickly assumes the mantle of the loyal soldier. His accidental death at the hands of his fellow soldiers only serves to heighten both his status as perpetual outsider and Jones' notion of the Army as a place where individuals matter less than the unit.

Adapting the book proved to be a challenge for screenwriter Daniel Taradash. He had to make some adjustments to the plot to gain even the most tentative cooperation of the Army. What Taradash carried off most skillfully, however, was the book's very adult themes. Granted, the character of Alma Lorene was changed from prostitute to dance-hall hostess (fooling absolutely no one) and the rough language was cleaned up for 1953 screen standards, but the hot, illicit affair between Sgt. Warden and the married Karen Holmes was retained, and the violence and harassment Prewitt and Maggio suffered at the hands of their superiors remained for the most part.

by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

The unconventional casting of From Here to Eternity made for some unexpected but very real chemistry in front of and behind the camera. Prim Deborah Kerr was an unlikely choice for the role of the adulterous Karen; while posing for cheesecake bathing suit publicity shots, she quipped, "I feel naked without my tiara." But early on in the shooting, it became apparent the unusual combination of Kerr and rugged Burt Lancaster was producing some welcome on-screen heat.

Oddly enough, Montgomery Clift connected best with Frank Sinatra. They were an odd couple the gay, upper-crust WASP and the skinny Italian hood from New Jersey. The two became great drinking buddies while on location in Hawaii, going off on monumental benders, often joined by an even more unlikely partner, the pugnacious James Jones. Although Sinatra had always been a heavy drinker who could handle himself when necessary, Clift's growing substance abuse problem became more and more evident during the production. In one scene where he actually had to play drunk, he was far too intoxicated to pull it off.

Sinatra had personal problems of his own. The collapse of his marriage to Ava Gardner weighed heavily on him; it got so bad he announced to Clift one night that he was going to kill himself. But the younger actor was even more troubled, and Sinatra became a kind of big brother/protector for him. On the other hand, Clift was an acting mentor for Sinatra. The two had totally different styles of working. Sinatra was best in the first take or two; after that he tended to lose his spontaneity. Clift, on the other hand, used each take to build on what he had done before, getting deeper and deeper into the character and the situation with each go-round. Director Fred Zinnemann later said that was one of his biggest challenges on the picture, getting the best performance from both of them in the same take.

Sinatra wasn't the only one impressed with the way Clift attacked a role. Donna Reed remembered his concentration as being "positively violent." Clift's intensity extended to an obsessive drive to have every detail down right. He spent long hours of practice on military drills. He copied Jones' mannerisms and speech patterns. He insisted on playing his bugle loudly and repeatedly, even though he was dubbed, so that he would accurately appear to be playing it on screen. Renee Zinnemann, the director's wife, said, "He worked so hard at all of this that he was almost worn out by the time they started shooting."

Although Clift told friends he thought Burt Lancaster was a terrible actor and "a big bag of wind" (an attitude perhaps fueled by his resentment over having to take second billing), Lancaster had great regard for the younger man's talent. "The only time I was ever really afraid as an actor," Lancaster once said, "was that first scene with Clift. It was my scene, understand. I was the sergeant, I gave the orders, he was just a private under me. Well, when we started, I couldn't keep my knees from shaking....I'd never worked with an actor of Clift's power before. I was afraid he was going to blow me right off the screen." Lancaster's anxiety manifested itself in a pattern of difficult behavior, nitpicking over his lines, the camera angles, and his appearance. During breaks in filming he would go off by himself to jog or do push-ups. He argued so much with the normally even-tempered Zinnemann, he finally provoked the director into telling him to go "screw" himself.

Amid all these arduous details, Zinnemann managed to bring the film in as ordered, on time (41 total shooting days) and within budget and at no more than two-hours running time. To keep from overrunning studio boss Harry Cohn's 120-minute dictate, he was forced to forego some scenes he particularly prized. One was a scene near the end where Prewitt mistakenly believes Pearl Harbor is being attacked by Germans. But Zinnemann had his victories, too. He lobbied for and was allowed to include a sequence featuring a group of soldiers improvising a song "Re-Enlistment Blues", which Zinnemann hoped would be as popular and recognizable a movie song as Tex Ritter's "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" had been for his earlier film, High Noon (1952). Despite the catchy tune, the song didn't become a top forty hit. But of all the battles he had to fight with the Columbia front office, the one he was proudest of winning was against "the boys in New York," i.e., the sales department. The marketing people thought the film would gross at least an extra million if it were shot in color. But Zinnemann was able to persuade Cohn that black and white was more suitable for the film's stark, gritty themes and that color would have softened and trivialized it.

by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

"The work often has the same effective spare quality that made Mr. Zinnemann's High Noon [1952] an impressive business.... Some of the episodes are perhaps excessively brutal, but Mr. Zinnemann is not, after all, trying to portray the activities of a Beaver Patrol. What he has done is given us a glimpse of the military that is very rare." The New Yorker, 1953.

"I love Zinnemann's film, I realized, because it was made in a period before movies had become pop. The movie is about grown-ups with ambitions, weaknesses and loyalties; they make choices and suffer the consequences. There is violence, but it is never exaggerated or cartoonish, and it is always fully felt. From Here to Eternity is a thrilling movie, but nothing in it was designed simply for thrills.... [It] is one of those rare 'big' movies that is also unaffectedly intimate." David Denby, Premiere, September 1990.

"Surprisingly, considering the Cold War temperament of the times, the film is not a glorification of military life. Although the problems of bad leadership and abuse of authority are solved by the army in the film (unlike the book), officers are shown to be pompous, arrogant and ignorant. Only some of the enlisted men are shown heroically. No glorious battles are depicted, and the climax is the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor...Probably most important of all, Hollywood learned that the American audience would support films that attempted to deal with adult situations and problems." - Ray Narducy, The International Dictionary of Films & Filmmakers (Perigee).

"Though intended as an attack on the U.S. Army, it is neither powerful nor truly critical. It marks something of a turning point in Zinnemann's career; formerly a fairly good director, from this point on he played the game according to the Hollywood rules." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films (University of California Press).

"Appeal of the film is that Lancaster, Clift, Sinatra, Kerr, and Reed all anticipate the rebel figures that would dominate the rest of the fifties. They break army rules and society's rules. They are the only characters with compassion, who can love - so here rebels are positive figures. Picture has superb acting, strong direction by Fred Zinnemann." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"The relationships may be doomed, but their treatment set new standards for cinematic sexual frankness. Though it may seem tame and obvious now, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's torrid horizontal beach kiss broke down barriers concerning the depiction of sensuality...All of the romantic entanglements are worked out in the shadow of the men's duties as soldiers and their relationship to the Army. That's really what both the novel and the film are about - the responsibilities of the individual and the organization...Zinnemann and [screenwriter] Taradash don't explore the depths of character that Jones created - film doesn't work that way - but they certainly turned his work into one of Hollywood's most enjoyable entertainments." - Mike Mayo, War Movies (Visible Ink).

"The bawdy vulgarity and the outhouse vocabulary, the pros and non-pros among its easy ladies, and the slambang indictment of army brass have not been emasculated in the transfer to the screen...Eyes will moisten and throats will choke when Clift plays taps on an army bugle for his friend Sinatra after the latter dies from the brutality administered by Ernest Borgnine..." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentice Hall).

"Much of the film's initial impact lay in the casting of Deborah Kerr in a role far removed from her usual well-bred style, and the comeback of Frank Sinatra in his first dramatic part." - The Oxford Companion to Film (Oxford University Press).

"As a production, it is Hollywood in good form, and certainly took the public fancy as well as establishing Sinatra as an acting force." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

"This is not a theme which one would expect Zinnemann to approach in the hopeful, sympathetic mood of his earlier films, but neither could one expect the negative shrug of indifference with which he seems to have surrendered to its hysteria." - Karel Reisz, Sight and Sound.

"...the movie succeeds by the smooth efficiency of Fred Zinnemann's lean, intelligent direction, and by the superlative casting. Montgomery Clift's bony, irregularly handsome Prewitt is a hardhead, a limited man with a one-track mind, who's intensely appealing; Clift has the control to charm - almost to seduce - an audience without ever stepping outside his inflexible, none-too-smart character...This was the movie of its year..." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movie (Henry Holt and Company).


Academy Awards® for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Sound (John P. Livadary). The eight awards were more than any other picture had won since Gone with the Wind (1939). Nominations for Best Actor (Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift), Actress (Deborah Kerr), Musical Score, Costume Design (Jean Louis).

Golden Globe Awards for Best Director, Supporting Actor (Sinatra).

New York Film Critics Awards for Best Picture, Actor (Lancaster) and Director

Directors Guild of America Award to Fred Zinnemann.

Writers Guild Award to Daniel Taradash for Best Written American Drama.

Cannes Film Festival Special Award to Zinnemann.

Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

back to top
teaser From Here to Eternity (1953)

It's such a classic now that the ruckus From Here to Eternity raised when it was released in 1953 may be hard to imagine. James Jones' novel was a huge bestseller; so raw, unvarnished and lengthy that it seemed un-filmable. Not only was the sex and violence toned down for the censors, but the anti-military angle was also minimized so that the Army would grant permission to use its facilities. Casting the film was a risky venture, particularly in the case of Frank Sinatra. He was almost a has-been, barely coasting on a reputation as a former heartthrob and certainly not considered seriously as an actor. Montgomery Clift, a founding member of the Actors Studio and an intense but introspective actor, was also an unpredictable choice as the heroic Prewitt. Donna Reed, usually cast as the girl-next-door, won the role of the prostitute, Alma. It seemed improbable but the film was both a commercial and critical success, winning an astonishing eight Academy Awards (including Sinatra as Best Supporting Actor) and making "best-of" lists ever since.

The film opens with Private Prewitt (Clift), a former boxer and current trumpeter, transferring to an Army base at Pearl Harbor in late 1941. If he was expecting to find a stereotypical military base, he was mistaken. Prewitt's best friend Maggio (Sinatra) is regularly abused by a tough drill sergeant (Ernest Borgnine), his immediate superior (Burt Lancaster) is having an affair with the commanding officer's wife, and to top it off Prewitt falls for a "hostess" at a local club. When the commanding officer wants Prewitt to box on his team, the private refuses. Prewitt's defiance results in a series of humiliating menial tasks that the commanding officer hopes will change the soldier's resolve. Meanwhile, the entire base feels the threat of the oncoming war without knowing how it will end.

The producers of From Here to Eternity wanted a "serious" actor such as Eli Wallach in the role of Maggio. But Sinatra saw a wonderful opportunity to prove what he was really capable of doing. So he began lobbying for the part, even calling Columbia studio head Harry Cohn personally, only to be dismissed with "You're a singer." In desperation, Sinatra lowered his price to $1,000 a week. In the end, his price, persistence and scheduling changes in the competition won him the role. (Sinatra found out he won the role while he was in Africa visiting wife Ava Gardner while she filmed Mogambo, 1953). In what-might-have-been casting, Joan Crawford was originally set to play the commanding officer's wife until she learned that the part didn't allow for any designer dresses or fancy clothes. Deborah Kerr landed the role instead.

Keep an eye out for George Reeves, whose role was trimmed when audiences laughed at the incongruity of seeing TV's Superman in the film. Guitar great Merle Travis contributes music. In 1979 there was a TV mini-series adaptation of From Here to Eternity starring Natalie Wood, Kim Basinger and Andy Griffith. Joe Pantoliano was cast in the Sinatra role. Later, when a short-lived TV series appeared (1979-1980), the Sinatra part was played by Don Johnson.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by James Jones
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey, Floyd Crosby (uncredited)
Editor: William Lyon
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: George Duning
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Sergeant Milton Warden), Montgomery Clift (Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Donna Reed (Alma), Frank Sinatra (Angelo Maggio), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. James 'Fatso' Judson), Jack Warden (Cpl. Buckley), Mickey Shaughnessy (Supply Sgt. Leva), Merle Travis (Sal Anderson).

By Lang Thompson

back to top