From Here To Eternity - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1953

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Production: Columbia Pictures Corp.; 1953; black and white, 35mm; running time: 118 minutes. Released 1953. Filmed in Hawaii at the Schofield Barracks.

Producer: Buddy Adler; executive producer: Harry Cohn; screenplay: Daniel Taradash, from the novel by James Jones; photography: Burnett Guffey; editor: William A. Lyon; sound: John P. Livadary and Columbia Studio Sound Department; art director: Cary Odell; music: George Dunning.

Cast: Burt Lancaster ( Sergeant Milton Warden ); Montgomery Clift ( Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt ); Deborah Kerr ( Karen Holmes ); Frank Sinatra ( Angelo Maggio ); Donna Reed ( Alma "Lorene" ); Philip Ober ( Captain Dana Holmes ); Ernest Borgnine ( Sergeant "Fatso" Judson ).

Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Reed), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography—Black and White, Best Sound Recording, and Best Editing, 1953; New York Film Critics' Awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor (Lancaster), and Best Direction, 1953; Cannes Film Festival, Out of Competition Prize, 1954.



Griffith, Richard, Fred Zinnemann , New York, 1958.

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Phillips, Gene D., The Movie Makers: Artists in an Industry , Chicago, 1973.

Thomas, Tony, Burt Lancaster , New York, 1975.

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Look (New York), 25 August 1953.

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Reisz, Karel, in Sight and Sound (London), January-March 1954.

Wald, Jerry, "Screen Adaptation," in Films in Review (New York), February 1954.

Taradash, Daniel, "Into Another World," in Films and Filming (London), May 1959.

Zinnemann, Fred, "A Conflict of Conscience," in Films and Filming (London), December 1959.

Zinnemann, Fred, " From Here To Eternity ," in Films and Filming (London), November 1961.

Zinnemann, Fred, "Montgomery Clift," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.

From Here to Eternity
From Here to Eternity

Reid, John Howard, "A Man For All Movies: The Films of Fred Zinnemann," in Films and Filming (London), May and June 1967.

Schuster, Mel, "Burt Lancaster," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1969.

Braun, Eric, "From Here to Esteem," in Films and Filming (London), May 1970. Also April and June 1970.

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Lippe, R., "Montgomery Clift: A Critical Disturbance," in Cineaction (Toronto), Summer 1989.

Simmons, Jerrold, "The Production Code & Precedent," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 20, no. 3, Fall 1992.

Hall, P., and N. Sivulich, "Letters: Military Movies," in New York Times , section 2, 25 April 1993.

Vineberg, S., "Fred Zinnemann's Actors," in Film Criticism (Meadville), vol. 18/19, no. 3/1, 1994.

Sternberg, D., "Real-life References in Four Fred Zinnemann Films," in Film Criticism (Meadville), vol. 18–19, Spring 1994.

Zinnemann, F., "Letter from Fred Zinnemann," in Film Criticism (Meadville), vol. 19, no. 2, 1994/1995.

Reid, J.H., in Reid's Film Index , no. 32, 1997.

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MacCabe, Colin, and Geoffrey Macnab, "Bayonets in Paradise: Soldier Stories," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 9, no. 2, February 1999.

* * *

James Jones's novel From Here to Eternity was a bestseller. Portraying Army life immediately before Pearl Harbor, its racy sex scenes, lively and rough language, and vivid characterizations of men under stress made it one of the most widely read books to come out of World War II. Hollywood was interested but felt that the book would be a difficult project. Obviously the realistic and explicit sex scenes were the basis for much of the book's appeal. The book was also very lengthy and somewhat rambling. If one could conquer the problems of translating the language and sex to the screen, could a film be made that captured the spirit of the book? Hollywood wanted to try because the loss of its audience to television and divestiture of the studios' theater chains were forcing Hollywood to provide forms of entertainment that could not be found elsewhere.

Columbia's chief executive Harry Cohn bought the rights and worked on the project directly with producer Buddy Adler, director Fred Zinnemann, and writer Dan Taradash. Cohn appeared on the set to make suggestions and felt that he really contributed to the project. For the first and only time in his career, his name was included in the ads for the film. But Cohn and his director did not have a smooth relationship. Zinnemann had his own ideas how to handle the film.

Zinnemann was an excellent choice as a director. He was known for his respect of actors, and the film was one that for success would depend on the performance of the cast. Zinnemann had also worked on short subjects earlier in his career and had developed a technique of cutting away everything but the necessities—important in bringing From Here To Eternity down to a workable but effective size. Already evident in his work ( High Noon , 1952), the thematic concern of From Here To Eternity , how an individual fights for what he believes to be right, was important to Zinnemann and a theme he would return to in later films ( A Nun's Story , 1959; A Man for All Seasons , 1966).

Surprisingly, considering the Cold War temperament of the times, the film is not a glorification of military life. Although the problems of bad leadership and abuse of authority are solved by the army in the film (unlike the book), officers are shown to be pompous, arrogant and ignorant. Only some of the enlisted men are shown heroically. No glorious battles are depicted, and the climax is the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. With love affairs involving an officer's wife and an enlisted man, a military outcast and a prostitute, the melodrama of military life is the focus of the film. The beach love scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr has become a cliché, although at the time it was considered very risqué and erotic.

The film was a very big moneymaker for Columbia, and the production won eight Academy Awards. One of those, for Best Supporting Actor, marked the comeback of Frank Sinatra. Probably most important of all, Hollywood learned that the American audience would support films that attempted to deal with adult situations and problems. The next year Columbia verified this theory with another successful adult drama, On the Waterfront .

—Ray Narducy

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