Based on James Jones’ incendiary novel, Fred Zinnemann’s From Here To Eternity (1953) is a masterwork of emotional intensity with few equals. The film stars Burt Lancaster at the peak of his career as 1st Sgt. Milton Warden, doing his duty on the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor. With the threat of constant conflict looming over his head, Warden is a fairly cool customer. He’s sympathetic to the cause, but more loyal to his men, especially Private Robert E. Lee (Montgomery Clift) whom he recognizes as a man of conviction, where everyone else would rather just see him become a brute in the boxing ring.
Warden’s world is turned on end with the arrival of Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr), the sultry vixen/wife of his superior commanding officer (Philip Ober). Karen and Milton begin an affair. At first, she sees him as merely a diversion – one of many she has had to endure throughout her husband’s absence. But then their tryst becomes something more – deeper, unexplainable and unmentionable to everyone else.
Meanwhile, Lee and his drinking buddy, Private Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) have managed to land themselves in a heap of trouble – thanks to their all night carousing with the ladies at a local nightclub. Lee falls for Alma Burke (Donna Reed) – a rough-on-the-surface gal who eventually softens to his touch. For Angelo, the infraction places him under the authority of his old arch nemesis, sadist Sgt. James Judson (Ernest Borgnine). Serving interment, Angelo falls prey to Judson’s physical abuse behind closed doors. Lee, however, decides to go A-wall; a move that gets him shot. Wounded, he escapes to the refuge of Alma’s hideaway bungalow, only to realize that the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor has begun.
From Here To Eternity is intense melodrama. Zinnemann’s direction compliments the nimble screenplay by Daniel Taradash. The cast is superb with Sinatra's Oscar-winning turn the standout that revitalized and reinvented the actor's on screen persona and career. Ernest Borgnine is a fascinating character actor. Watching him relish his role herein as the maniacal thug who uses his authority to abuse his men, one can easily forget his Oscar-winning role in Marty in which he completely subverts these traits to become everybody's downtrodden friendly guy. So too did Deborah Kerr use this film to reinvent her squeaky clean on screen image to that of a fiery temptress.
From Here To Eternity is often misguidedly dumped into one of two categories; either, as the romantic melodrama or war movie. It's both actually, but neither in particular - rather, a fascinating hybrid of the two. Taradash's screenplay asks the audience to invest ourselves in the lives of soldiers far away from home. Monty Clift's conscientious objector and Lancaster's aloof commanding officer represent two sides of the same coin. Both men would rather be somewhere else. Both struggle to find peace within themselves and both are called upon to act when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
Sony Home Entertainment released this film twice to DVD: once as a single disc with minimum extras; once under their patented Superbit technology with NO extras. In truth, the two versions are identical in image quality. The full frame B&W transfer exhibits contrast levels that are lower than expected. The image is generally thick without true blacks or whites but varying tonalities of gray. Fine detail is lost during night scenes. Film grain translates as digital grit. Age related artifacts persist and, at times, are quite distracting. The audio is mono as originally intended and adequate for this presentation. Extras are limited to a very brief and truncated featurette and the film’s theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)