Monday, August 05, 2013

The Not-So-Sunny Side of the Street

Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift): A man don't go his own way, he's nothing.

Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster): Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

If you want to see a faithful re–creation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I recommend seeing "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

But if you want to see a well–acted drama set against the backdrop of Pearl Harbor, "From Here to Eternity" — which premiered 60 years ago today — is the clear choice.

There was a lot of hype for this movie, I've been told, and I can believe it. It was based on one of the best–selling novels of the previous decade, which, I must confess, I haven't read. I'm sure that, as is usually the case, the movie wasn't as good as the book that inspired it, but I haven't a clue where the movie came up short unless there were parts of the story that, given the times, could not be mentioned.

When I saw it — and that was several decades after it was released — I felt it delivered on every level. The acting was brilliant in a story that was ostensibly about war but really was about life and how unfair it can be.

The movie followed three American soldiers — played by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra — who were stationed at Pearl Harbor in the months leading up to the attack. Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed were the love interests.

Although separated by about 45 years, I thought "From Here to Eternity" was a lot like "Titanic" — the audience knew something big was going to happen, but it kind of got lost in the love story.

By the time the something big happened, it almost took the audience by surprise. That's an indication of superior filmmaking, I suppose.

Ironically, that was clearly the intention of 2001's "Pearl Harbor" — but it failed to get the audience to care about the love story.

"From Here to Eternity" didn't have that problem, especially with the principals, Lancaster and Kerr, who shared a passionate kiss on the beach in their iconic scene. Kerr's character was married, but audiences could forgive her that because she had been abused by her philandering husband, a thoroughly unlikeable sort played by Philip Ober (who may be best known for having been married to Vivian Vance at one time).

It was easy for audiences to not like him, and I have no doubt that was the plan. If the spouse is a reprehensible human being, it is easy to excuse the aggrieved spouse for behavior of which most people wouldn't approve. And most people probably would not approve of an extramarital affair.

Likewise, most people probably wouldn't condone prostitution, but Reed's character endeared herself to the audience with her selfless claim that she wanted to make enough money to go home to the mainland and buy a house for her mother.

Both Lancaster and Kerr were nominated for Oscars, but it was supporting performances by Sinatra as a soldier who is killed while in the stockade and Reed, whose performance as a prostitute can only be seen as completely against type, that earned Oscars for acting.

Sinatra, of course, was primarily a singer. While I haven't seen all of Reed's movie performances, her performance in "From Here to Eternity" may have been her most sincere and candid.

Director Fred Zinnemann won an Oscar as well, and the movie won Best Picture. Out of 13 nominations, "From Here to Eternity" took home eight awards.