Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr both appear on my list of admired thespians. It’s difficult to ignore the contributions both made to cinema during their time. Yet, I don’t think either of them is ever remembered as they ought to be. It’s more than them never being remembered by Oscar (Wood, Dietrich, Grant, Burton fall in the same boat), but whenever we think of the classics, I rarely recall them getting any mention. The two did star in a film together, although I’m probably stretching the truth to say that. From Here to Eternity is not a story where these two actors unite, but I still remember them first when I think of it. They should have each walked away with their Oscars here, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a war film, From Here to Eternity is less concerned with the implications of the war at hand and more interested in the actions of the people. Remove the setting of Island and the time of the war and the tragedy in the film still persists because of the frivolity of man. It’s not difficult to see the similarities of all the wandering characters. Clift’s Prewitt says so sagely “Nobody ever lies about being lonely” and as Kerr’s ignored wife, Sinatra’s dissatisfied Private, Reed’s “good” call girl and Lancaster’s unhappy Sergeant wander on and off-screen their loneliness is palpable. They meander back and forth searching – reaching out – for some notable human connection. Philip Ober is ostensibly relegated to the role of stock villain. Anyone preventing the amicable Deborah Kerr from happiness couldn’t be too good. Lancaster has never impressed me as a thespian and the relationship forged between he and Kerr always makes me wonder at times. Kerr is not as calculating to play Karen as cold as she could (think, Kristin Scott Thomas’ Sylvia McCordle) but perhaps, that’s the very reason I do like her performance. She’s acts well within in her means, even if her range is not as expansive as I’d like. I’m never sure why Lancaster is regarded so well in this film, though admittedly he plays his role well. He’s never had a wide range, and perhaps Sgt. Milton is tailor made for him. Doubtlessly, though, I’m prejudiced.
On the topic of range, Clift’s Prewitt and his tragic outcomes seem to rote for Clift, yet I do regard this performance as one of cinema’s greatest. I know Donna Reed isn’t as wholly loved in her performance as the affable call girl, but I’m rarely moved to doubt her sincerity even as the film plays up to the stereotype of the prostitute with a heart-of-gold. Sinatra, though, is the one who confuses me the most. I may be alone here, but his work as Private Maggio impresses and befuddles me – sometimes simultaneously. He can go from being excellent, to being pedestrian in a matter of second. But after the rumour that the role was written for Eli Wallach (forgotten star of the era) I always think just how lucky Sinatra was to get his hands on the role.
From Here to Eternity is remembered most for the shot above and not as much for the performances. I often wonder if my general dissatisfaction with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn has to do with some incidental projection of the Academy's preference of the two over Clift and Kerr. I doubt, that would be too weird. From Here to Eternity, though, represents a fine example of good film making. It's a classic, rightfully so, and features an excellent cast of celebrated thespians - some more than others.