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From Here to Eternity

Columbia Pictures/Columbia Pictures . R4 . COLOR . 113 mins . PG . PAL


When, at the height of McCarthist America, James Jones’ controversial novel From Here to Eternity topped the best-seller list, it was generally considered unfilmable; packed as it was with illicit sex, violence, and being a sombre indictment of the peacetime military. These elements were considered far too salacious for the oppressive Film Production Code under which all post-war film productions laboured. And yet Columbia purchased the rights, began production under the direction of Fred Zinnemann, appeased Joseph Breen and the film production board, appeased the US army, and went on to create one of the most celebrated films of Hollywood’s most celebrated decade.

Once the best army bugler in the Hawaiian islands, Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) quits the bugle corps; taking a bust from corporal down to buck private and relocating to a rifle company. Soon he finds himself at nearby Schofield Barracks, posted there at the bequest of his new company commander Captain Holmes (Philip Ober) who fully expects Prewitt to box for his outfit in the upcoming base championships. Although Prewitt was once a middle-weight contender, he has long since given up the sport after injuring a sparring partner and flatly refuses to cooperate. Soon he finds himself the target of a savage campaign of bastardisation; Holmes obviously meaning to change Prewitt’s mind or break him in the process. As the ill treatment starts, Prewitt is befriended by Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra) a scrawny, smart-mouthed private in his company.

All the while, machinations of the heart are afoot. Whilst Captain Holmes engages in secret liaisons with women all over town, his staff sergeant, Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) has become interested in Holmes' nyphomaniacal wife Karen (Deborah Kerr) and the pair begin a torrid affair. Prewitt too becomes a slave to love when, on a weekend pass, he meets and falls for the sultry Lorene (Donna Reed) – a prostitute at a local brothel (sorry social club ;). On the same night, Maggio makes an enemy of the brigade sergeant Fatso Judson (an astonishingly evil Ernest Borgnine), who vows to make Maggio suffer when he inevitably ends up his guest in the stockade.

"Who the hell you got playing that piano, a hippo?"

And yet, even as the relationships blossom, we learn that they are fatally flawed. Lorene is looking for a rich husband to rescue her from her terrible life. Warden can’t come to terms with Karen’s past lovers, and for some reason Karen needs a husband that’s an officer. Meanwhile, the ill treatment of Prewitt continues unabated. One night Maggio is caught by the MPs while deserting his guard post, and is (you guessed it) sentenced to the stockade! Without warning, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor precipitates events that bring all the subplots to a screeching conclusion.

What first sounds like an episode of a bad '50s soap, From Here to Eternity turns quickly into an engaging, emotional drama. With my expectations based solely on Eternity’s famous image – Lancaster and Kerr smooching in the surf, I was expecting a sappy love story. Happily I could not have been more wrong. Whilst the love story aspects occupy a significant part of the movie, the relationships portrayed are human; that is, flawed from the outset. What they don’t show you in the trailer is the blazing row that erupts immediately following that famous exchange! The film’s real driving force is the examination of the human condition under abuse, be it emotional or physical, with the main subplot being a traditional ‘boot-camp’ type thread that is carried to its logical conclusion.

Nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winner of eight, including Best Picture, Best Director (Zinnemann), Best Screenplay (Daniel Taradash), and Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed), From Here to Eternity is worthy of all its accolades. The cast is superb, with Clift and Lancaster turning in great performances. However it is Sinatra that really steals the show with his hilarious, smart-arse sidekick. In all, this is a film that grabs you in the first ten minutes and doesn't let go until the all too inevitable conclusion, delivering some tight drama and some great laughs along the way.


Produced in 1953, From Here to Eternity is approaching 50 years old and was filmed at an aspect ratio of 4:3 (full frame) - the standard at the time. Intentionally shot in black and white by director Zinneman (despite Columbia's pressure to the contrary), Zinneman's intention was to transport the viewer back to the pre-war period, and there is no doubt that the film would lose some of its impact had it been filmed in colour.

Although this is certainly not the best black and white transfer I have ever seen, the limitations stem from the source material itself, rather than the fantastic encoding job done by Sony. The film displays an almost constant level of film grain, and the contrast is variable in several scenes – most notably that beach scene which very obviously appears to have been filmed at different times of the day. Shadow detail is a little disappointing, and the print does suffer from film artefacts – most notably at what I guess to be the beginning and end of reels. This said, the print is remarkably clean at most other times, and these artefacts never become distracting.

On the positive side, blacks are deep and solid, and whites are bright. When the image is sharp and well-lit (which is a lot of the time) there’s a reasonable amount of detail on display – hampered only by the film grain. There are no MPEG artefacts at all to be seen, and only a little aliasing crops up from time to time. Presented on a dual-layer disc, the layer change was not perceptible on my player. All in all a great presentation that will provide a good reference version of From Here to Eternity for years to come.


Retaining the film’s original mono soundtrack, the audio provided for From Here to Eternity is remarkably clear, suffering from no dropouts, pops or clicks, and with dialogue remaining clear and distortion-free throughout. As is common practice for Sony, the mono audio is encoded as a two-channel Dolby Digital stream.

As you might expect, this is a soundtrack that is showing its age and certainly won't showcase your expensive home theatre setup. More importantly though, the soundtrack provided by Columbia seems to be a faithful reproduction of the original source material.


Released as part of Columbia Tristar’s Academy Award Winners Collection, we are treated to anamorphic, animated menus and a selection of extras that would ordinarily earn the mantle of ‘Special Edition’. Despite being not quite as impressive as other releases in this series, this extra material does provide some insight into this history-making film.

  • Audio Commentary: Tim Zinneman, the son of director Fred Zinneman is joined by Alvin Sargent; a colleague of Fred Zinneman on the film Julia, and who had a bit part in From Here to Eternity. Talking almost continuously, the pair discuss pre-production issues such as James Jones’ scandalous best seller, casting disagreements between Zinneman and Columbia, casting the female leads against type and negotiations with the US army. They go on to provide anecdotes pertaining to key scenes, shot construction, the actors’ performances, the production schedule and some reminiscing of their own filmmaking experiences.

  • Featurette – The Making of From Here to Eternity: Just gets you interested and then stops dead. Contains some colour footage from on-set and presents a quick summary of the film’s cast and the awards it garnered. However, at only 2 min 30 sec it really was hardly worth the effort to encode it.

  • Featurette – Excerpt from ‘Fred Zinnemann: As I See It’: (9 min 33 sec) contains some interesting material – most notably Fred Zinneman’s colour home-movie footage from on-set. This is mixed with final shots from the film, extracts of a quite recent interview with Zinneman (obviously before his death in 1997) about aspects of the casting and what attracted him to the project. Zinneman also discusses his enthusiasm for anti-heroes and the depiction of moody outsiders in film.

  • Theatrical trailers: for From Here to Eternity, On the Waterfront and The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The first two are full-frame black and white, sourced from prints of variable quality. The last is colour widescreen (2.35:1) non-anamorphic, nice and clean.

  • Filmographies: List of selected film highlights for the major cast members and director Fred Zinneman.

  • Collector’s booklet A ten page booklet that provides a one page blurb on each of the titles in Columbia Tristar’s Academy Award Winners Collection. The blurbs are penned by none other than Bill Collins, and on this strength alone I refused to read them.


From Here to Eternity is one of Hollywood's true classics and the most enjoyable of the 19 films of the '50s that populate the AFI top 100 films of last century (well, of the several I have seen anyway :). Columbia Tristar's Collector’s Edition DVD release provides the perfect opportunity to go out and finally rent it or buy to own. This is a film that has stood the test of time remarkably well, and is still as entertaining today as when first released. The disc certainly does justice to this piece of cinema history, and I strongly suggest you give it a spin. If you have been eagerly anticipating the release of From Here to Eternity on DVD, then delay no longer - this is the release you've been waiting for!

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1327
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      And I quote...
    "Columbia's local release certainly does justice to this piece of cinema history..."
    - Gavin Turner
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