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A classic that lives up to its reputation
on 29 November 2007
From the days when doorstop novels (or at least large chunks of them) were turned into films rather than mini-series, From Here to Eternity may be toned down to please both the censors and the US Army, whose co-operation was vital to the film, but it's still a superb piece of film-making that slips in a few powerful punches between the lines.
Set in Pearl Harbor in the months leading up to the Japanese attack, it focuses on two professional soldiers: Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), a hard-headed ex-boxer given 'the treatment' by his commanding officer to force him to fight in the regimental boxing championships, and the company's Top Sergeant (Burt Lancaster), who is having an affair with the officer's frigid wife (Deborah Kerr).
Daniel Taradish's screenplay is a masterpiece of snappy construction, perfectly mirrored by Fred Zinnemann's directorial style that brings out both the toughness and the sentiment with a convincing lack of sensationalism. And what a cast: Lancaster a convincing mixture of toughness and emotional vulnerability, a surprisingly sexy Kerr, Donna Reed playing tough against type, Borgnine at his meanest and a wonderful array of character actors. Clift may make an unlikely boxer, but his performance is one of his best, as is that of Sinatra, always under-rated as an actor on those occasions when he made an effort, as his doomed best friend Maggio.
With a good DVD transfer, this is let down by the extras - only a teaser trailer, a making-of featurette that runs a full two minutes (!!!), a brief extract from a documentary about the director and an audio commentary by Tim Zinnemann and Alvin Sargent. This is still well worth adding to your collection, though. Classic films often don't live up to their reputations. This one does.