From Here to Eternity (1953)
Director: Fred Zinnemann.
Starring: Burt Lancaster (Sgt. Milton Warden), Montgomery Clift (Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Donna Reed (Alma 'Lorene' Burke), Frank Sinatra (Pvt. Angelo Maggio), Philip Ober (Capt. Dana Holmes), Mickey Shaughnessy (Cpl. Leva), Harry Bellaver (Pvt. Mazzioli), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. 'Fatso' Judson), Jack Warden (Cpl. Buckley), John Dennis (Sgt. Ike Galovitch), Merle Travis (Sal Anderson).
two soldiers fall in love and face difficulties set before, during and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, 1941.
Army Pvt. Robert E. Lee "Pru" Prewitt arrives at Schofield Barracks to check in with his new company, G Company. He says hello to Pvt. Angelo Maggio who is cleaning up around the barracks. Pru says he transferred over from Ft. Shafter. He was the first bugler there, but he has quit the bugler corps. Since no one seems to be in the office, Pru starts playing some pool by himself. First Sgt Milton Warden comes in and tells Pru that this is an infantry company and there is no personal enjoyment except in the evening. Warden wants to know why Pru gave up his rank as corporal to transfer to an infantry unit as a private. Pru says it was a personal matter.
The commanding officer, Capt. Dana Holmes, arrives. He talks with Pru. He says he is the boxing coach for the unit and he personally asked for Pru in order to get a top middleweight boxer. Pru says he's sorry, but he has quit fighting. He says he fought Dixie Wells and hurt him and he hasn't boxed since. But Captain Holmes is not going to give up on Pru. He is going to keep after him until he agrees to fight.
Captain Holmes leaves. A little later Mrs. Karen Holmes arrives to see her husband. Warden and another sergeant talk about the attractive woman. The other sergeant tells Warden that she had a lot of affairs when she was at Ft. Bliss, Texas. Mrs. Holmes comes over to the sergeants asking where her husband is. They say he is on a business excursion.
Captain Holmes comes home. It is soon very clear that he and his wife have a very bad relationship. It sounds like the captain was unfaithful and Karen is till angry with him. She tells him to please get out of her bedroom.
Pru meets the company boxers. They tell Pru that if a fighter becomes a division champ, he gets ten days furlough. Pru repeats his old refrain that he does not fight anymore. The boxers start picking on Pru to coerce him to fight. Maggio stands up for Pru saying a man shouldn't be forced to fight if he doesn't want to. Then a boxer threatens Maggio to watch his mouth.
Corporal Buckley tells Pru that he thinks that the first sergeant is the best soldier he ever saw. The boxers start the "treatment". They make Pru do extra marching, make him run seven laps, trip him and make him do another seven more laps. Maggio tells the boxing sergeant: "Are you crazy? I saw what you did." So Maggio has to run the seven laps with Pru.
Captain Holmes goes on another business trip, so Warden decides to go visit Mrs. Holmes. She invites him in and he says he could sure use a drink. Soon they are both drinking. Warden tells Karen: "I just hate to see a beautiful woman go to waste." Karen describes herself as a "washout". She almost starts to cry. Warden kisses her.
Maggio tells Pru: "Don't let them get your goat."
Sgt. Maylon Stark comes to see Warden. He says he has heard that he has a thing for Mrs. Holmes. Stark says he just wants Warden to know that she had a lot of men at Ft. Bliss. He says he knows because he was one of her men. Warden goes to meet Karen anyway. She says: "You probably think I'm a tramp." Warden denies that.
A lot of the soldiers go over to the New Congress Club. Mrs. Kipfer manages the female dancers there. Pru takes an immediate liking to the woman known as Lorene. Fatso Judson, the sergeant of the guard at the stockade, is playing the piano. He is a big, heavy man and he keeps hitting the piano keys too hard. This really aggravates Maggio and he says something to Fatso. Maggio is pulled away and warned by a soldier that he saw Fatso almost kill a guy once and he really liked it. Pru sees Lorene with a fellow known as Bill and he becomes a bit jealous. As a result, he is a bit rude to Bill and Lorene takes Bill to a different area of the club.
Warden and Karen go to the beach to swim and have a good time.
Lorene and Pru talk after Bill has left. She says something about how alike all the soldiers are. Pru doesn't like the remark and says: "We may seem we're all alike, but we aren't." Lorene decides to take Pru to a quiet area to talk with him.
Warden and Karen kiss on the sand while the waves wash over them. A little later Warden starts asking Karen about how many men has she been with and what about what happened at Fort Bliss. He says Maylon Stark knows her and he told him that she has a lot of men. Karen starts to leave, but Warden won't let her go. Then he starts to leave. Karen says: "Come back here, sergeant." She will tell him her story. She says Dana was cheating on her. She got pregnant and when it was time for her to go to the hospital, her husband comes in, but is so drunk that he passes out. The baby was born dead and, worse, she could not have any more children. After that, she went out with a lot of men. Warden hugs her.
At the New Congress Club Pru and Lorene are getting along really well. Maggio comes up to bring them some whiskey to drink. He stays long enough to annoy them and then he leaves. Pru tells Lorene about his not fighting and getting harassed by the boxers in the unit. He also tells her that he hit Dixie Wells hard, putting him in a coma for a week. When he awoke from the coma he was blind.
Back on the base the harassment of Pru continues. They have him dig a really deep hole just to bury a newspaper. Sgt. Galovitch keeps kicking over a bucket and re-dirtying the floor that Pru is trying to clean. As he continues kicking the bucket over, Pru gets really mad and tells the sergeant to clean up the mess himself. Captain Holmes hears his remark and make him go on a long hike up a mountain and back down. When Pru gets back, the captain asks him if he is ready to apologize to the sergeant. Pru says no, so up the mountain he goes again and back. Captain Holmes tells Warden to prepare court-martial papers for Pru for insubordination to a non-commissioned officer.
Warden says this is a real shame. The captain asks if the first sergeant can see a different way of breaking Pru? Warden says he could double up on company punishment for the man. The captain says: "All right!" Pru is soon washing dishes at the mess hall. Warden comes to check on him and Pru tells him he still is not going to fight.
Warden and his friend Pete go drinking together. Pete doesn't like all this picking on Pru and when he gets a chance he tells Pru that he has the right to take his grievance to the Inspector General. Pru says he is not going to complain. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Pru takes a bugle away from a bugler and plays it so well that the soldiers give him a big applause. Fatso comes in and makes a disparaging remark about Maggio's sister. Maggio picks up a bar stool and hits Fatso in the back of the head with it. Fatso pulls out a knife. Warden jumps in between the two of them saying that if there is going to be any killing here, he will be the one to do it. Maggio drops the stool, but Fatso keeps holding the knife. Warden gets angry and busts a bottle open and challenges Fatso to combat. Fatso drops the knife. Warden says: "Killers, huh? I'd trade the pair of you for a good Campfire Girl!" Fatso tells Maggio that eventually he will end up in the stockade and he, Fasto, will be waiting for him.
Warden asks Pru if he wants a weekend pass. Pru responds with: "I sure could use it." Warden mentions Lorene.
Maggio gets ready to go. He is slow so Pru gets on the bus and goes. The head of the guard comes in looking for someone to nail and there is only Maggio there. So Maggio is told to get ready for guard duty. Anderson is sick. Maggio says it just isn't fair because he just recently had guard duty. The head of the guard tells him that will teach him for being so slow in getting dressed.
Pru tries to talk to Lorene but she tells him that they are so packed here that she has to work steady. She asks: "Can't you understand?" She also points out that he didn't show up for weeks and now he expects her to just pay attention to him. He starts mocking her using the name Lorene over and over again. This irritates Lorene so much that she tells him to stop saying Lorene. Her real name is Alma Burke. Pru is not understanding and he tells Alma: "If you feel that way, just forget about it." Lorene says she's sorry. Pru says he is just so disappointed because he may not get another pass for months. Mrs. Kipfer comes over and tells Pru that they are really busy because they got a big crowd from Hickam Field. Pru tells Alma to meet him at the Kalakaua Club after her work is finished.
Alma shows up at the Kalakaua Club. Pru is very happy. He tells her that he loves the army. He lost both of his parents early in his life and the army gave him a second home. Maggio comes over and says he left guard duty. Pru is alarmed for him and tells him he has to take him back or he is going to be in big trouble. Alma tells Pru it's best that he take Maggio back to the base. Pru tells Maggio that he will get the cab.
While Pru is getting the cab, MPs arrive to pick up the drunken Maggio. Maggio starts resisting arrest and gets himself deeper into trouble. The court-martial for Maggio is held and he gets six months in the stockade. Maggio is taken to the stockade. He has to report to Fatso, who says to Maggio: "Hello, tough monkey." He starts fingering a police baton.
Alma takes Pru over to her rented place. She introduces him to her roommate Georgette. Alma is making a dinner for Pru.
Warden and Karen are at a night club on the other side of the island, but soon have to leave because some soldiers come into the place and they don't want to be seen together. The couple really wants to be alone together, but there are soldiers all around. So Karen tells Warden that there is a way they could be together. She says he has to become an officer. Warden is upset, saying: "I hate officers!" Both of them agree that they have never been so miserable since they met each other, but they wouldn't trade a minute of it.
Pru and Alma both say they love each other and Pru talks about the possibility of marrying. There's a problem, however. Alma says she does not want to be the wife of a soldier. She has saved enough money to go back to Oregon and buy a house for her and her mother. Then she will meet the proper man and they will have a proper marriage, because when you're proper, you're safe. Pru is disappointed and says: "You got guts, honey. I hope you can pull it off.."
Captain Holmes confronts his wife about a possible scandal. He wants to know the name of the man she has been seeing and where did they meet. Karen is not going to tell him.
Pru learns from a guy just out of the stockade that Fatso is using a billy club on Maggio. The fellow was really handling this well, but Fatso put Maggio in solitary and this seems to have affected Maggio very negatively.
Sgt. Galovitch keeps riding Pru until Pru stands up to the sergeant. A fight begins. Meanwhile, Holmes is signing the officer application forms for Warden. Someone comes in to say that there is a fight between Pru and Galovitch going on. Galovitch is fighting dirty and even knees Pru in the face. Holmes just stands there and watches the fight. He is seen by a superior officer who asks why that officer is just standing by and watching the fight, instead of breaking it up. When Pru starts giving Galovitch a bad beating, Holmes stops the fight. Galovitch says that Pru started it and should be court-martialed. But a couple of men step forward to say that it was Galovitch who started the fight. So Holmes says: "Let's forget it."
Warden is drunk. Pru is drunk and goes for another drink. Warden calls him over and shares his liquor bottle with Pru. He tells Pru that he has the biggest troubles in the whole world. Suddenly a dirty and hurt Maggio shows up. He tells Pru that he escaped by hiding in the back of a truck under a tarp. But along the way, he fell out of the truck. He thinks he broke something in the fall. Maggio says that he had to escape because Fatso really gave him an exceptionally bad beating. He says if Pru is ever in the stockade: "Watch out for Fatso!" Maggio dies.
At night Pru plays taps on the bugle in honor of his friend.
Pru goes looking for Fatso. He sees the man coming out of the New Congress Club. Pru walks over to him and confronts him. Fatso asks him if Pru is sore at him? Pru says that Fatso killed Maggio. He pulls out the knife that Fatso surrendered in the confrontation with Maggio and Warden. Fatso pulls out his knife. They fight. Fatso is so big that he is a very strong opponent, but Pru turns the tide of the struggle with a right cross to Fatso's head. Fatso falls down and Pru jumps on him. The big man gets up and starts backing up. He turns and starts holding his gut where he has obviously been stabbed. He drops to the ground and dies.
Pru also suffered a wound. When he arrives at the home of Alma. he immediately falls down. Alma and Georgette scream and come running over to him. Pru comments: "Don't worry, I ain't gonna die."
It's been three days now and Pru is still A.W.O.L.
Captain Holmes is found guilty of indefensible cruelty to Pvt. Prewitt. The general tells him to write a letter of resignation because the faster Holmes gets out of the army, the better for everyone. G company gets a new leader, Captain Ross. He tells the boxers that from now on, no man's going to earn his stripes by boxing. And Sgt. Galovitch is now Pvt. Galovitch.
Karen Holmes calls Warden and tells him that she has something important to discuss with him. Warden gets away to see her. She says her husband is going back to the States. She asks: "What'll we do?" Warden confesses that he never even signed his application form to be an officer. Karen says the problem is that he just doesn't want to marry her because he is already married -- to the army. Warden tells her: "We'll see each other again, somewhere."
It's Sunday, December 7, and the men of G Company are eating breakfast in the mess hall. Some soldiers see planes flying in low over the buildings, but think they are American. Explosions are heard and they think they are dynamiting somewhere. But when the bombs start falling close by and often, the soldiers finally realize that something is definitely wrong. Men pour of the the barracks. Japanese planes fly low over the barracks and strafe men in the courtyard. Warden tells the men to get back into the barracks. There he tells some of the men to go get the BARs (Browing Automatic Rifles). The others are to grab their rifles and wait by their bunks. This latter decision makes the men unhappy, but Warden tells them they may get a good chance yet to face the Japanese face to face.
The assigned men grab the BARs and machine guns and get on top of the roof of the barracks. Warden is able to shoot down one of the Japanese planes.
Pru hears over the radio about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He says to Alma that he has got to go back to his company. Alma warns him that his side wound will open up on him. Then she asks him to stay until next morning. No, Pru is going. Alma is convinced that she will not see Pru again if he leaves. She asks what has the army ever done for him except get him beaten up and his friend killed. Pru says he loves the army and he has to get back to his company because he is a soldier.
Pru leaves. He tries to sneak past the guards, but now they are all over the place and on nervous alert. They are especially looking for saboteurs. Because of his side wound and the pain as it opens up again, Pru runs favoring that one side. It looks like he is trying to sneak in or out of somewhere. A guard shouts at him to halt, but Pru just keeps going. They fire at him but miss, that is, until a fellow with an automatic weapon opens up on and kills Pru.
Warden comes out to identify the body. It's as if Warden was mad at Pru for being too stubborn and thick-headed. He talks to Pru's body saying all he had to do was just box. But no, he wasn't going to do that.
A boat leaves Hawaii for the States. On board is Karen Holmes and Alma Burke. They find themselves next to each other. Alma tells Karen that her fiancée was killed on December 7. He was a bomber pilot and was killed when a Japanese bomb hit right in front of his plane that was in the process of trying to take off. He was awarded the Silver Star. Karen asks about his name and Alma says it was Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Karen recognizes the name because Warden often mentioned Pru to her. In fact, she knows virtually the whole story of Pru and his girlfriend Lorene (aka Alma). But Karen says nothing about this to Alma.
Terrific film and winner of 8 Academy Awards, including best director and best picture. The film has two on-going love stories that are both very interesting. The lovers involved are up against a lot of problems and obstacles. The movie contains one of the most famous love scenes in screen history: the scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr at the beach. Of course, now the scene seems so tame and harmless, but it was especially shocking at the time because the woman was cheating on her husband.
You really get to know the characters in the film and care about what happens to them. And it's amazing that the American military forces were so blind and short-sighted about the possibility of war. Here in 1941 almost the entire world was at war and yet here sits the very important Hawaiian bases virtually asleep. Talk about your un-preparedness. The soldiers in the movie were concerned about everything but war. That Sunday, December 7, 1941, they were just as relaxed as any other American on a Sunday. Even when Japanese planes started coming in they thought they were American planes. They always thought the usual events were something else, but certainly not war. War seems to be the last thing they thought of. It wasn't until the bombs hit right on top of them that they realized that this was an enemy attack.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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