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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way. But today, you gotta play ball."
DVD ReviewFew American novels of the 20th century had quite the impact as James Jones' powerful indictment of the destructive influences of the peacetime military, From Here to Eternity. In the heyday of Joe McCarthy, a novel critical of the American military, packed with illicit sex, was widely considered unfilmable. Yet it was made into a movie in 1953 and won eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture.
Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a former bugler that took a demotion to buck private in 1941 Hawaii. Transferred to Schofield Barracks, he learns that his reassignment is due to the machinations of Captain Holmes (Philip Ober). The Captain is the head of the regimental boxing team, and knows that Prewitt was once a middleweight champion. What he doesn't know is that Prewitt refuses to fight, having blinded a sparring partner. In retaliation, Holmes burdens Prewitt with every punishment imaginable, hoping to break his will. Prewitt also meets and falls in love with Lorene (Donna Reed), a 'hostess' at a 'social club', while his First Sergeant, Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) falls in love with Capt. Holmes' wife Karen. She in turn is retaliating against the philandering captain's ways. Prewitt's best friend, Maggio (Frank Sinatra) runs afoul of the stockade commander, Fatso Judson (a sinister Ernest Borgnine, fresh from the innocent butcher Marty), who is just waiting for an opportunity to take Maggio down.
Sinatra and Reed both won Oscars® for their performances here, and by and large they're well-deserved. Reed had made a career of being a good girl in such pictures as It's a Wonderful Life, and here is cast against type. Alluring as always, she manages to be quite sexy despite the restraint that is required, due to the censorship of the time. She does quite nicely with the part, occasionally drifting toward cliché when she expresses a desire to be proper. She then veers away with a barely concealed rage, producing a sensitive and multifaceted portrayal, despite only having a few minutes of screen time. Sinatra is believable as well, though occasionally he delivers lines in the irritating singsong that he uses in Guys and Dolls. Clift does a superb job as Prewitt, and should have won an Oscar® of his own for this role. He is earnest and determined, principled almost to a fault, but he carries the part off beautifully, with such sincerity and intensity that the self-destructive tendencies come across as very credible. Lancaster is excellent as well as the tough-as-nails sergeant who also has the best interests of his men at heart. His manipulative nature almost feels like a riff on Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts.
The love scene on the beach of Diamond Head with the water rushing over Warden and Karen is, of course, iconic and one of the highlights of cinema; it's amazing the power that the scene has, even though it only lasts a few seconds on the screen. Part of the power of the sequence is brought through the fact that these are two adults, not youngsters, who are clearly in the throes of passion, to the point of Warden risking prison to be together. Deborah Kerr also plays against type as the promiscuous Karen Holmes, generating a fair amount of heat herself, despite her saucy tongue. The bitterness that immediately follows their love scene is almost startling, but so true to life that one accepts it wholeheartedly.
Any film set in Hawaii during 1941 can hardly help having the attack on Pearl Harbor included, and this is no exception. No CGI is necessary to make this event horrific. Although not extravagant, the war sequences are powerful and tightly edited to generate serious suspense. The black & white photography lends a starkness to the drama of life and death that succeeds the small-minded pettiness and nastiness of the peacetime military.
Zinnemann, who got his start in documentaries, effectively uses locations for nearly the entire picture. This lends the film a verisimilitude lacking in most studio products of the day. The lighting during the love scenes is sensitive and gorgeous. Many of the shots are in long takes, but the intensity of the story never allows the camera setup to become tedious.
The picture still holds up exceedingly well after nearly fifty years. They don't make Best Pictures like this any more. There's hardly a dull moment or any sequence that is less than involving.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The transfer is quite nice, with a mild reservation. The picture is crisp and clear, with deep blacks and a beautiful range of greys. Whites are not washed out in the least. Shadow detail is excellent; the picture is gorgeous. The one failing is that there is a significant amount of dirt on the print leading to a relatively steady array of speckles. These are, as usual, worst at reel changes, tapering down to a tolerable level for long periods of time. No damage is visible, however. If it weren't for the speckling, this would be an A+ transfer. As such, it's knocked down a little. Not terrible by any means, unless speckling really irritates you. There is plenty of film grain here, but so much of the film takes place in low light that the grain is surely meant to be visible.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Columbia provides a wide selection of languages, all in 2.0 mono. Dialogue is clear and crisp throughout, with minimal hiss and little noise of any kind. The sound of the boxing ring bells is surprisingly undistorted and utterly realistic. This is a fine rendering of an original soundtrack, and shows that a 5.1 reworking is not at all necessary for a successful audio transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Guns of Navarone and The Bridge on the River Kwai
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director's son Tim Zinnemann, actor Alvin Sargent
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:23s
Extras Review: Columbia provides a decent set of extras in support of this classic. Up first is a commentary by the director's son, Tim Zinnemann (unfortunately, his father died in 1997), and Alvin Sargent, one of the few surviving cast members. Although Sargent only had a bit part in the film, he was familiar with the elder Zinnemann, and between them they manage to deliver a great many anecdotes in an engaging conversation. It is not, however, often screen-specific, even though they are clearly running the film as they talk, because they occasionally comment on the action on the screen. The first hour is the best; as they head into the second hour they lose steam and have significant gaps in the discussion. However, there are fascinating stories about Clift being unable to get out of character, even after the film had wrapped, the interference of the Army and the Breen Office, and the positive effects that at least the Army's concerns had. While it's a shame that no commentary was made by the principals years ago, this is about the best that can be managed at this point in time.
Two featurettes are provided, a very brief making-of running 2m:21s, and an excerpt from Fred Zinnemann: As I See It, featuring interviews with the director as well as his home movies from the set. The making-of is dispensable, but the Zinnemann program has a good deal of merit in its 9m:35s running time. A blurry trailer for the feature is included, as are 'scope (but nonanamorphic) trailers for two other Columbia war classics. Completing the package are very brief filmographies (none extending beyond two screens) for Zinnemann, screenwriter Daniel Taradash, Lancaster, Clift, Kerr, Reed and Sinatra. Pretty thin going, but better than nothing.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA well-constructed and superbly acted drama of life just before World War II, given a nice transfer and a decent array of extras. Well done!
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