From Here to Eternity is Fred Zinnemann’s classic about the life in a military base in the Pacific shortly before the Japanese attack in 1941. It's one of the movies I was expecting to get a much higher position when I started this ranking and its position now is the proof just how strong this category is.
From Here to Eternity is one of the movies that almost everybody knows simply because of one scene – Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing passionately on the beach while the waves surround them. But this movie has much more to offer – a complex and captivating look in the structure of the military and the private life of two soldiers.
The most interesting part of the plot presents Montgomery Clift’s character Prewitt who refuses to join the military boxing team and has to endure a lot of bullying by the other soldiers. The only bright spot in his life is his relationship to Laureen/Alma, a young woman entertaining the soldiers in a private club. Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed develop a wonderful chemistry in their scenes and constantly show the sexual longing in their characters even though they are very quickly forced to play ‘husband and wife’. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr add a completely different relationship to the movie as their love affair is rather marked by a desire that seems to combine lust and hate at the same time. Both storylines work extremely well and perfectly harmonize with the male characters’ lives at the military station.
From Here to Eternity shows 4 characters who all suffer from loneliness – especially the women even though Karen is married while Alma is constantly surrounded by men. Their relationships give them a little more to hope for but it soon becomes clear that Prewitt and Waren are soldiers, first, last and always as Miss Brodie would say. From Here to Eternity is mostly a character study set in a time when the horror of war suddenly arrives on this innocent island.
The war sequences are thankfully never overdone since the movie does not primarily focus on the war itself but again uses it to show the affect it has on its main characters. I especially appreciate the way the movie presents the beginning of the war – instead of immediately seeing Japanese airplanes, the soldiers at the station first begin to hear loud and strange noises. It’s a surprisingly heart-stopping moment even though the audience is already aware of what’s happening.
In some ways, From Here to Eternity could have been nothing more than a military soap opera but the acting, the writing and the direction by Fred Zinnemann turned it into a wonderful, almost epic adventure.