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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"You guys wanna put the screws on, go ahead. I can take anything you guys can dish out."
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 the officer 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 impact 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: I have to say that this struck me as an exceedingly odd choice for the Superbit treatment: a black and white, full frame, mono film, which was given a pretty nice transfer in the first place. Unfortunately, the difference in the video quality is negligible at best. Where the Special Edition disc hovers around 5-6 Mbps, the Superbit version only ups that to about 6-7 Mbps. It doesn't seem to be the same transfer, judging by the bit meter on my player, but I'm having difficulty telling any difference between the two. There might be a little increased resolution in a few scenes, but it's fleeting and not hugely noticeable. The original transfer did a fine job of resolving textures and details for the most part, and this disc continues that tradition. Unfortunately, the main beef that I had about the original disc, the heavy speckling throughout the running time, has not been remedied or restored here. Thus the video grade remains the same.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The primary innovation on this disc is the addition of a half-bitrate DTS 5.1 upmix of the original mono (which is also retained in a separate track). The result is much louder and in your face. Separating the single track into separate bits has the unfortunate side effect of highlighting defects in the original soundtrack. In conversations, there is noticeable noise and hiss present now that travels with each speaker and disappears as soon as the words are complete. During the fight sequences, the crowd noise in the surrounds has an artificial feeling that's rather unpleasant. However, the upmix does have its merits. Unsurprisingly, they come to the fore during the Pearl Harbor attack. The effects track is punched up and planes travel nicely from speaker to speaker to give one the feeling of being in the midst of battle. I'd suggest using the mono track for most of the movie and switching to the DTS track as the attack begins in chapter 25. The sound in this section will gratify lovers of action soundtracks with oomph.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:22s
Extras Review: As is par for the course on a Superbit disc, there are no extras beyond the usual Columbia polyglot assortment of subtitles. The layer change is completely seamless and will escape the notice of even the most vigilant viewer.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThe classic picture gets a largely unnecessary Superbit overhaul; it's worthwhile for the increased impact of the Pearl Harbor sequence, but otherwise it's not much of an improvement and most fans of the film will be satisfied with the special edition that has a ton of extra material to boot.
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