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Feature


Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a soldier and former boxer being manipulated by his superior and peers. His friend Maggio (Frank Sinatra) tries to help him but has his own troubles. Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) tread on dangerous ground as lovers in an illicit affair. Each of their lives will be changed when their stories culminate in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 From Here to Eternity
We all have a laundry list of films we know we’re ‘supposed’ to have already seen. Many of my friends refer to this as their ‘List of Shame.’ I don’t like the word ‘shame’ in there anymore than I like the word ‘guilty’ in ‘guilty pleasure’ (there shouldn’t be any shame in not having seen a movie and no one should feel guilt for enjoying a movie, unless its, like, a snuff film or something), but I agree with the sentiment. We often want to be part of a conversation, but can’t, because that conversation requires knowledge from a mountain of movies (or other forms of literature/art) that we haven’t seen. The good news is that, as we age, most of us grow more patient. Our palates mature, our tastes broaden, and classic movies stop feeling like homework. We also learn that many of these movies are considered ‘must-sees’ because they're really, really good. This gig has afforded me the chance to cross quite a few of these movies off my list, especially now that major studios are making a concerted effort to put their catalogue titles out on Blu-ray.

Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity features an image so thoroughly ingrained into the cultural zeitgeist that I had actually assumed I’d seen it and already crossed it off my list. In this scene (which I’m sure you have also seen) Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are forbidden lovers who frolic on a Hawaiian beach. As they embrace for a passionate kiss in the sand, a wave crashes over their bodies and the music swells. It is perhaps the most enduringly romantic image that Hollywood has ever produced and one of the most obvious, censorship-skating visual metaphors ever put to film. I knew this one scene, inside and out, and was familiar enough with the basic plot of From Here to Eternity (it’s like Pearl Harbor, minus everything that sucks about Pearl Harbor, right?), but was shocked as I watched this screener Blu-ray. I realized that, not only had I not seen it, but that the most famous scene is almost a tonal/stylistic anomaly and it doesn’t come close to encapsulating the remarkable complexity and, at times, overbearing darkness of the film.

 From Here to Eternity
Hungarian-born Zinnemann began his American movie-making career making B-level noirs before finding major critical acclaim with The Search, one of the first Hollywood films to acknowledge the Holocaust and his first pairing with Montgomery Clift (who also co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay). Zinnemann became a big player in the ‘50s when he directed two of the most ‘important’ films of the era, High Noon and From Here to Eternity. High Noon had the greater impact, having been remade/revisited/rehashed for decades now (it’s also one of the best westerns ever made), but From Here to Eternity won eight Academy Awards and has become the director’s trademark film. Some critics have remarked that Zinnemann was cast against type as a director, because his stylistic inclinations are generally realist or expressionistic – not the kind of sweeping, romantic things you’d expect from the subject matter. His noir precision blends beautifully with his vérité naturalism and gives From Here to Eternity a sort of melancholy ambience that just feels right (not to mention that it matches the grit of the newsreel footage he cuts into the Pearl Harbor scenes). The material just wouldn’t have worked with the Technicolor sheen that was so popular during this era. Zinnemann and screenwriter Daniel Taradash (working from James Jones’ 858-page novel) set a remarkable pace for the multi-character tale without rushing anything important. They could certainly teach Michael Bay a thing or two about telling an efficient story of military malaise on the eve of war.

Separated from the beach kissing scene, the cast is probably the element most people remember when thinking about From Here to Eternity. The 1953 Academy ended up nominating all four of the major players for Oscars, but only Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed ended up walking away with statuettes for their supporting roles. Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift apparently split the vote between each other when they were put up against Richard Burton ( The Robe) and two of Zinnemann’s former collaborators, Marlon Brando ( Julius Ceasar) and William Holden, who won for Stalag 17. Burton, Brando, and Holden were more successful on a total career level, but I it’s safe to say that Clift’s simmering, sympathetic performance in particular stood the test of time. Deborah Kerr lost her Best Actress award to Audrey Hepburn for her performance in Roman Holiday, which is awfully hard to argue against in retrospect. Kerr plays the thankless role of a willowy woman that unsuccessfully hides behind an emotional wall and she manages to find some balance between tonal extremes. She and Lancaster sometimes seem to be acting in an entirely different film than Clift. Their scenes together are fine when they are set apart from the rest of the film, like little, hyper-dramatic interludes, but don’t really gel with the more naturalistic and, frankly, better performances. Sinatra, who fought tooth and nail for the role, and Reed’s acting isn’t as contemporary as Clift’s, but they’re certainly fantastic within an early ‘50s capacity. Ernest Borgnine is also great in one of his more understated villain roles. At least understated for Borgnine. My only question pertains to Reed being labeled as the film’s supporting actress when she has basically as much screen time as Kerr.  

 From Here to Eternity

Video


From Here to Eternity was one of Sony’s original Superbit releases, but, for whatever reason, the studio hadn’t seen fit to release a Blu-ray version until now. I’m guessing that this 1080p transfer, framed in its original 1.33:1 ratio, is based on the same master that the Superbit release used. From Here to Eternity won cinematographer Burnett Guffey the first of two Oscars (the second was for Bonnie and Clyde). His black & white compositions are certainly among the film’s strongest attributes. Like I said in the feature section of this review, it is an understated film, visually speaking. It’s probably the darkest and most shadow-crusted version of Hawaii ever put to film. The contrast levels on this disc are set pretty high, making for a dynamic overall image. The blacks look richer and the whites brighter than what I see from the SD footage on the extra features. This is a minor problem for the brightest highlights, but the thicker blacks are crisp without crushing fine details during the particularly ‘noir-y’ moments. In general, details are limited by grain and Guffey’s naturalistic compositions, but are still quite sharp with only minimal edge enhancement. The wide-angle shots are especially impressive for their deep-set textures (decorative brothel walls, patterned Hawaiian shirts, and tropical locations, for example). The grain levels appear natural to me, not like CRT noise, and the occasional blurry moment looks more like soft focus than issues with heavy-handed DNR application. The clips of actual Pearl Harbor newsreel footage are, not surprisingly, rougher than the rest of the film.

 From Here to Eternity

Audio


From Here to Eternity makes its Blu-ray debut with a remixed 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an original mono track, encoded in lossy DTS Express 2.0. The 5.1 mix made its first and only appearance on that Superbit disc. The extra channels are mostly reserved for George Duning’s score (which was also nominated for an Oscar, by the way), and the music sound deep and rich on the lossless track. The instrumentations are warm and nicely separated, almost as if they were re-recorded for this release (in a good way). The discrete center channel holds the bulk of the dialogue/effects and isolates them well from the music. What I don’t like about the remix are the vocals and sound effects that have been added to the stereo and surround channels to create a more immersive experience. These don’t include any obvious ‘canned’ effects infused specifically for the remix, but the choppy spread still sounds artificial (especially when characters are suddenly speaking from the right or left speaker) and threatens to ruin the simple sound design. The more aggressive, LFE rumbling explosions are certainly impressive for the sake of showing off one’s sound system, they just don’t work with the older and relatively understated material. The only time I really liked the effect was during the drill calls, but these are practically musical sequences, anyway.

 From Here to Eternity

Extras


The only new, Blu-ray exclusive extra is Eternal History, a picture-in-picture track. This extremely informative pop-up is basically a PiP documentary, complete with video interviews and behind-the-scenes photos/production art. The interview footage isn’t wall-to-wall – it’s broken up into sections and separated by text-based pop-ups, many of which sort of reinforce what was just discussed. The broad subject matter includes the popularity/controversy of James Jones’ original novel, the process of bringing that controversy to the screen within the constraints of the era’s censorship rules, the basic back-stories of the cast and major crew, and the basic shooting process. Interviews include authors/critics/film historians Alan K. Rode, Virginia Campbell, Kim Morgan, Kate Buford, and Robert Osborne, actor/friend of Clift’s, Jack Larson, Sinatra’s daughter Tina, and the director’s son, Tim Zinnemann.

If partitioned and edited commentaries aren’t your thing, Sony has also included the older audio commentary with Tim Zinnemann and actor Alvin Sargent, who cover mostly the same ground, just in a different fashion. The extras are wrapped up with The Making of From Here to Eternity (2:20, SD), an incredibly brief featurette on the film’s casting augmented with footage from Zinnemann’s home movies and excerpts from a documentary titled Fred Zinnemann: As I See It (9:30. SD).

 From Here to Eternity

Overall


From Here to Eternity is a magnificent film that really should be on every movie-lover’s ‘to see’ list. It comes loaded with expectations, but few of them convey its real beauty – understated style, dramatic satisfaction, and brilliant performances, headed by Montgomery Clift. Sony’s Blu-ray features a sharp, but not over-scrubbed transfer, two solid audio options (DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS Express 2.0 original mono), and a surprisingly strong PiP commentary track/documentary.

 From Here to Eternity

 From Here to Eternity

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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