From Here To Eternity
*** GM
Starring: Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Philip Ober, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden


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Frank Sinatra won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film. I think it's safe to say that the Academy never completely had its head screwed on straight. This might be a precedent set for the whole Julia Roberts-Brockovich thing, where a popular beloved celebrity does a role in a film that has a slight ring of something more than standard cheese and, lo and behold, they get lavished with praise and honors. It's as if everyone was waiting to give her this stuff, but some sort of 'conscience' held them back. I wonder how many people in the Academy wanted to give her the Oscar for "Sleeping With The Enemy" just because she was America's Sweetheart. Turns out Sinatra had some sentimental weight behind his nod, too, since he had to beg to be cast in the film after a vocal hemmorhage nearly ended his singing career. Guess they all love an 'against-the-odds' thing. Enough to overlook a less-than-stellar performance.

Anyway, all that aside, this film is considered one of the greatest American films of all time. I can see flashes of greatness in it, but I have to say it wasn't all it's cracked up to be. It's basically the story of the military life in Hawaii in the days preceding Pearl Harbor. Prewitt (Clift) is a hardhead new transfer that's being pressured to box despite the fact that he stopped because he accidentally blinded a friend while sparring. That doesn't stop Captain Dynamite Holmes (Ober) from harassing him with every punishment imaginable to try and coerce him into winning the championships for them. Holmes is slightly affable but is actually an all-around jackass, living in a sham marriage with his wife Karen (Kerr), who's searching for any sort of love and happens to find it with Sgt. Warden (Lancaster). Warden's risking stockade time to make time with his captain's wife, which makes falling in love with her that much harder to deal with. Prewitt falls hard for a gal at the local gentlemen's club named Lorene (Reed), who's just trying to earn some scratch to go back and show off in her hometown to those that didn't consider her 'proper.' Meanwhile, Maggio (Sinatra) is Prewitt's only real friend, and he keeps picking fights with sadistic jackasses like Fatso (Borgnine), the guy who runs the stockade and is waiting for the time when he gets to mete out some punishment to the little bastard.

What's cool about this film is that it's just a bunch of characters interacting, getting mixed up in each other's businesses, capturing that sense of innocence and relative normalcy that most likely pervaded the area before the surprise attack from the Japanese that blew everything to hell. Nobody has an inkling about what's going to happen (although the audience is pretty sure, since any story set in Hawaii during World War II is going to be about Pearl Harbor) and it's a great way to bring everything to a head. The female characters are strong and generally interesting (Reed won Best Supporting Actress, too, and she's a bit more deserving of it) with motivations beyond being simply defined by their respective love interests. There are some good character moments, interaction between Prewitt and Warden is decent.

The film never really pulled me in, though. Lancaster had his moments but didn't seem very compelling. Clift was all right and likable enough, but a little on the dull side. Sinatra was kinda awkward and his whole role was pretty predictable and iffy, although he had some bright spots, too. They were all just missing some charisma to really drag me into their lives and make me care about what was going on. As a result, the conclusion doesn't provide the requisite feeling of devastation and loss that one should feel after getting to know some of the people that were killed at the beginning of America's war... and if you can't make Pearl Harbor truly feel like a tragedy, well, dammit, there's just something wrong with the film.

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