I don’t know what it is that makes me love Donna Reed’s performance so much. It’s no big role, it’s maybe not the most challenging role and she is also not the best thing about the movie – but her portrayal is still very powerful and memorable and becomes an impressive part of the overall quality of From Here to Eternity.
Donna Reed played Alma/Laureen, a young woman who works in a club on Hawaii. The movie presents her as some kind of ‘entertainer’ but Donna Reed uses her usually so wholesome screen-image and combines it with a very passionate characterization that turns Alma into a very mysterious and intriguing character. Even though From Here to Eternity is a very powerful movie with a great script, Donna Reed often suffers from the fact that Alma is presented as the typical prostitute with the heart of gold – she falls in love with Prew in the first five minutes, later gives him a key to her house and immediately cooks dinner for him while he sits down in the living room. Oh, and when she is alone at home, she is doing needle work. But the aforementioned combination of wholesome screen image and passionate inner life makes it very easy for Donna Reed to create Alma as a woman who is longing for a ‘traditional’ life while also trying to raise enough money to achieve a higher level in society. Alma has her own agenda – her big ambition in life is to become rich and ‘be proper’. She tells Prew that she used to date a rich guy in her home town, but that didn’t work out. Alma has learned that she can’t marry into a better class so she has to work her way up. And while she obviously has honest feelings for Prew, she makes it clear that a long-term relationship or even marriage isn’t an option for her. She doesn’t want to be the wife of a soldier, she wants to be respected and proper. In a very impressive scene she tells Prew about her plans with a determined look on her face. But then she also tells Prew that she needs him – because she is lonely. Donna Reed does some wonderful facial work in this role, determined and strong in one second, scared and heartbreaking in the next.
Donna Reed also has wonderful chemistry with Montgomery Clift. A more conventional actress like her could have gotten lost so easily next to Clift’s astonishing realism but their relationship is done excellently by both actors.
Donna Reed is very natural in this role and she brings a lot of grace and style to her character. She makes you believe that this is a woman that Prew has to go back to. She is also just great when they meet for the second time and she has no time for him. You can see how much she wants to be with him, how she is torn between her duties and her love and she is just wonderful when she tells him ‘Oh stop calling me Laureen, my name’s Alma!’ She seems genuinely shocked because this is probably the first time she ever told anyone her real name.
Her big money scene is her break-down when Prew leaves her for return to the Army and she shouts at him ‘What did the Army ever do for you besides treat you like dirt? What do you wanna go back to the Army for?’ It’s maybe the movie’s most unforgettable moment.
And then there is her final scene when Alma has created her own story of what has happened and she tells it to Deborah Kerr. She has made a fantasy for herself which may help to make her proper and achieve her goal after all…it’s a very intense scene because Donna Reed leaves it open what Alma’s true intentions are at this moment.
So, a beautiful and very deserving performance by Donna Reed.