Vintage Movies: “From Here To Eternity”

MAGNET’s  Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’20s through the ’80s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

From Here To Eternity (1953, 118 minutes)

Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt arrives at his new post, a Pearl Harbor army base, to find his reputation as a prize-fighter has preceded him. A lone wolf who won’t be bullied, Prewitt once blinded a friend while sparring and has given up boxing. But that’s the reason for his transfer, Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes informs Prewitt. He’s needed to help win the battalion championship boxing trophy for 1941. “You might as well say stop war because one man got killed,” an exasperated Holmes barks at his intransigent recruit.

“If a man don’t go his own way, he’s nothing,” says Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) to Holmes’ right-hand man, First Sgt. Milt Warden (Burt Lancaster), explaining why he won’t fight. “Maybe in the days of the pioneers he could go his own way, kid, but today you gotta play ball,” says Warden.

Holmes (Philip Ober) orders the rest of his NCOs, all members of the boxing squad, to give his potential middleweight “the treatment” to force him to change his mind. When Prewitt excels at field-assembling his M1 rifle, one of Holmes’ boxers gives him “seven times around the track at double-time” because his rifle’s rear site is out of adjustment. Every minor infraction by the reluctant boxer is met with double-punishment.

To complicate matters, Warden is thinking of making a play for Holmes’ lonely wife while the Captain is chasing after loose women in town. “All you do is sit around sweating over papers, sergeant,” says Holmes on his way out the door. “You ought to get out more, yourself.” Glancing at a photo of Karen Holmes on the Captain’s desk, Warden replies, “I’ve been considering it, sir.”

As Warden and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) meet discreetly on a park bench, she warns him, “Don’t be gallant, sergeant. If you think this is a mistake, come right out and say so.” Warden snaps back, “Do you think I’d be here if I thought it was a mistake? I’m taking a chance on 20 years in Leavenworth by making a date with the company commander’s wife.”

Private Angelo Maggio (a wiry Frank Sinatra) and Prewitt, out on a rare day-pass, head to town for some female companionship at the New Congress Club. At a bar later, a drunk Maggio complains about the noisy piano-playing of “Fatso” Judson, the base’s stockade sergeant. “I’ll play loud as I want, you little wop!” says Judson (a sadistic Ernest Borgnine). “Only my friends call me that!” says Maggio, clocking Judson from behind with a stool. Warden jumps between the two to defuse things: “Killers, huh? I’d trade the pair of you for a good Campfire Girl.” Judson backs off, leering at Maggio and warning, “Tough monkey! Guys like you wind up in the stockade. Someday you’ll walk in, and I’ll be waiting.”