From Here to Eternity (Zinnemann, 1953)

Andrew Sarris, in his landmark survey of directors entitled The American Cinema, calls Fred Zinnemann’s style “inoffensive”” at it’s best and “downright dull” at it’s worst. From Here to Eternity, Zinnemann’s pre-Pearl Harbor melodrama and multiple Oscar winner, provides prolonged examples of Sarris’ critique, namely anytime Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster share the screen. The film, which builds both the Lancaster/Kerr love affair and the Montgomery Clift/Donna Reed as parallels to the same cliched themes of honor, duty, and lust, can’t overcome it’s suffocating obsession with angst and regret. When war finally does hit in the last scenes, it’s almost a relief from the sappy romance. The one high note is Montgomery Clift’s mesmerizing performance as Private Prewitt, a man unwilling to conform to the military brand of intimidation and bribery. Instead, Prewitt suffers through countless humiliations without the bat of an eye, hoping his commitment to the honorable aspects of the military code will win out in the end. The fact that Prewitt’s sacrifice goes unrewarded remains the films only true storytelling risk, everything else can be counted as a wash. From Here to Eternity is certainly a prestige Oscar picture, but that’s not always a good thing when the aftertaste is so bland.

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