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,From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity

It's such a classic now that the ruckus From Here to Eternity raised when it was released in 1953 may be hard to imagine. James Jones' novel was a huge bestseller; so raw, unvarnished and lengthy that it seemed un-filmable. Not only was the sex and violence toned down for the censors, but the anti-military angle was also minimized so that the Army would grant permission to use its facilities. Casting the film was a risky venture, particularly in the case of Frank Sinatra. He was almost a has-been, barely coasting on a reputation as a former heartthrob and certainly not considered seriously as an actor. Montgomery Clift, a founding member of the Actors Studio and an intense but introspective actor, was also an unpredictable choice as the heroic Prewitt. Donna Reed, usually cast as the girl-next-door, won the role of the prostitute, Alma. It seemed improbable but the film was both a commercial and critical success, winning an astonishing eight Academy Awards (including Sinatra as Best Supporting Actor) and making "best-of" lists ever since.

The film opens with Private Prewitt (Clift), a former boxer and current trumpeter, transferring to an Army base at Pearl Harbor in late 1941. If he was expecting to find a stereotypical military base, he was mistaken. Prewitt's best friend Maggio (Sinatra) is regularly abused by a tough drill sergeant (Ernest Borgnine), his immediate superior (Burt Lancaster) is having an affair with the commanding officer's wife, and to top it off Prewitt falls for a "hostess" at a local club. When the commanding officer wants Prewitt to box on his team, the private refuses. Prewitt's defiance results in a series of humiliating menial tasks that the commanding officer hopes will change the soldier's resolve. Meanwhile, the entire base feels the threat of the oncoming war without knowing how it will end.

The producers of From Here to Eternity wanted a "serious" actor such as Eli Wallach in the role of Maggio. But Sinatra saw a wonderful opportunity to prove what he was really capable of doing. So he began lobbying for the part, even calling Columbia studio head Harry Cohn personally, only to be dismissed with "You're a singer." In desperation, Sinatra lowered his price to $1,000 a week. In the end, his price, persistence and scheduling changes in the competition won him the role. (Sinatra found out he won the role while he was in Africa visiting wife Ava Gardner while she filmed Mogambo, 1953). In what-might-have-been casting, Joan Crawford was originally set to play the commanding officer's wife until she learned that the part didn't allow for any designer dresses or fancy clothes. Deborah Kerr landed the role instead.

Keep an eye out for George Reeves, whose role was trimmed when audiences laughed at the incongruity of seeing TV's Superman in the film. Guitar great Merle Travis contributes music. In 1979 there was a TV mini-series adaptation of From Here to Eternity starring Natalie Wood, Kim Basinger and Andy Griffith. Joe Pantoliano was cast in the Sinatra role. Later, when a short-lived TV series appeared (1979-1980), the Sinatra part was played by Don Johnson.

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash, based on the novel by James Jones
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey, Floyd Crosby (uncredited)
Editor: William Lyon
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: George Duning
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Sergeant Milton Warden), Montgomery Clift (Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Donna Reed (Alma), Frank Sinatra (Angelo Maggio), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. James 'Fatso' Judson), Jack Warden (Cpl. Buckley), Mickey Shaughnessy (Supply Sgt. Leva), Merle Travis (Sal Anderson).

By Lang Thompson



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