James Jones is a much-criticized writer, but the movie adaptation of his book, From Here to Eternity, should not be a much-criticized film.
Deeply interesting, it received very respectable direction from Fred Zinnemann as it relates the story of three men, especially Montgomery Clift‘s Private Prewitt, on a Hawaii military base in ’41. An able boxer, Prewitt nevertheless refuses to box for his captain’s team because he once blinded a man with his punches. Others in the unit persistently bully him for this, and although Prewitt’s sergeant (Burt Lancaster) wrongly agrees that Prewitt is making a mistake, he is far more preoccupied with his growing love for Deborah Kerr‘s Karen, who is married to a philandering officer.
The army’s insistence in the film that the individual must be eclipsed by the group, the collective, is centered on something trivial—a boxing competition—compared with what the group is needed for at a later time: survival during the Pearl Harbor attack. Prewitt the individual is important in his desire to eschew boxing-ring violence. Prewitt the unit member wants to be a soldier, but the army, though honorable, is too small-minded not to militate against him.
Donna Reed plays the love interest for Prewitt, and although she is miscast as a (nice) prostitute, her acting is admirable. There is no real flaw here, but there is one in the picture’s intermittent excess: too many servicemen get stupidly drunk, for example. Zinnemann, even so, aimed to make serious Hollywood movies, and this one is not only serious but good as well.
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