Study Guide

From Here to Eternity Introduction

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From Here to Eternity Introduction

Release Year: 1953

Genre: Drama, Romance

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Writers: Daniel Taradash, James Jones (novel)

Stars: Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift

If you watch From Here to Eternity, be warned—you may end up with a bathing suit full of sand.

From Here to Eternity is most famous for its kiss-on-the-beach scene, where Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) and Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) roll around in the surf and make out as a wave washes over them. This was not only super racy by the standards of the day, but probably also inspired tens of thousands of Americans to imitate it—little suspecting how much sand would infiltrate their bathing suits in the process.

But the movie is about more than tastefully erotic beach-snogging. It's a portrait of the U.S. Army on the brink of the beginning of World War II—and shortly after the war begins as well. In one wing of the plot, a soldier named Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) has to resist the malevolent Captain Holmes, who pressures him to box after he's quit the sport (Prewitt blinded a friend in the ring).

In the other plot wing, Sgt. Warden dates Holmes' wife on the sly—Holmes himself being an adulterous jerk already. How will they navigate these problems? Maybe some major event will get the ball rolling… (cough Pearl Harbor cough).

From Here to Eternity was based on James Jones' 1951 novel (same title), which won the National Book Award. Considering that Jones himself was stationed on Oahu, Hawaii, before the war, he probably knew what he was talking about—he depicts life in the army without undue glamorization, but with respect for the soldiers. Actually, the book's content (brothels, gonorrhea, you know) was toned down for the movie—the prostitutes at the New Congress Club are now "hostesses," though the pay-for-sex part is sort of half-implied.

Anyway, when adaptation time came along in 1953, From Here to Eternity was made into a smash hit movie that got everybody talking. It won tons of awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Fred Zinnemann), Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Daniel Taradash).

Frank Sinatra won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the hero's best friend, Angelo Maggio. (The Godfather later started a rumor that Sinatra's mobster pals bullied a producer into giving Sinatra the role by chopping off a horse's head and putting it in the producer's bed. But this was untrue, disappointingly or not.) From Here to Eternity won eight Oscars total, out of a whopping thirteen nominations.

Even if it has melodramatic elements, From Here to Eternity remains one of the classic movie representations of life in the army. So sit back, and enjoy—and if you must recreate the make-out scene, it's best to just lie on a towel.

What is From Here to Eternity About and Why Should I Care?

Not to Be Confused With Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor

Why study this? Pearl Harbor and epic make-out scenes. 'Nuff said.

Oh yeah—and gritty realism, too.

From Here to Eternity documents, through the fictional lives of its characters, the outbreak of America's struggle in the largest war of the 20th century: WWII. Pearl Harbor, of course, was the beginning of American involvement in that war—the Japanese surprise attack on U.S. military installations and ships in Hawaii.

But From Here to Eternity doesn't really focus on the military or strategic side of the battle (other movies have done that, like Tora Tora Tora!). Instead, it looks at the human side, studying the lives of the soldiers who were stationed on (and making out on) Oahu in the months leading up to the attack.

The movie doesn't exactly make military life look glamorous. And this, coming less than a decade after the end of WWII, was a really, really big deal.

From Here To Eternity was about as far from pro-war propaganda as you could get. We see the villainous Captain Holmes try to bully a soldier named Robert E. Lee Prewitt into fighting in a boxing tournament… and Holmes is able to get plenty of goons from within the ranks to go along with his scheme. For Prewitt and his friend, Angelo Maggio, there's also a lot of drinking, fighting, carousing, and visits to a brothel-like hot spot called The New Congress Club.

Yeah. Try to imagine a wartime recruitment poster with Uncle Sam pointing and saying, "I want YOU for military bullying, boozing, and visiting prostitutes!" (Or just use the Uncle Sam poster generator.)

And that's not all that's going down on base. Sgt. Warden is hitting all the bases (bow chicka bow bow) with Captain Holmes' wife, while still uneasily going along with Holmes' plan to bully Prewitt. So everyone is adrift in a sea of malaise and dissolution—occasionally having love affairs, but not really going anywhere. No one's really committed to a Cause in a big way.

Finding Your Ideals

The Japanese bombs that fall on Pearl Harbor change all that. The date that will live in infamy shakes everyone out of their torpor and steels them with a new sense of purpose. Sgt. Warden is no longer another of Holmes' lackeys—he's one of the guys who'll win the war. And Prewitt rushes back from going AWOL (after a knife fight) to help his comrades.

And this turnabout is what, naturally, helped From Here To Eternity go from 1953 into filmic eternity—it manages to be both uber-realist and show how war can bring people together to fight for a common good. Think of it as the movie-cousin of Casablanca… except instead of Rick being a lone degenerate who makes good, this whole cast is made up of kinda-scummy characters who get right.

And who doesn't love a redemption story?


The author of the novel From Here to Eternity, James Jones, actually appears in the scene where Sgt. Judson (Ernest Borgnine) is playing the piano at The New Congress Club. (Source)

The army agreed to collaborate with the making of the film in exchange for toning down the negative depiction of the army itself. For instance, in the book, Captain Holmes is promoted—but in the movie, he receives his comeuppance and is forced to resign. (Source)

Frank Sinatra didn't really get his role in From Here to Eternity by having his Mafia connections chop off a prize racehorse's head and put it in the bed of its owner, a stubborn Hollywood producer. The Godfather spread that legend. He (probably) got it through the movie connections of his then-wife, actress Ava Gardner. Bo-ring. (Source)

Parts of the Pearl Harbor attack scene in From Here to Eternity included actual war footage and filmed reconstructions, shot by John Ford for a 1943 wartime docudrama, December 7th. (Source)

In preparing for his role as Prewitt, Montgomery Clift took boxing lessons and learned to play the bugle—even though he knew a real bugle player would overdub the bugle parts. He just wanted to get that deep into the character. (Source)

From Here to Eternity Resources


From Here to Eternity IMDB Page
If you want to learn a lot of technical facts, see a huge cast list, and scan giant lists of movie trivia, look no further. (Of course, if you want in-depth character analysis, extensive summaries, and lots more—there's this other website. It rhymes with "Shloop".)

From Here to Eternity Rotten Tomatoes Page
This page aggregates all the (glowing) reviews of From Here to Eternity on the web, including those from newspapers and magazines… and those from obsessive Internet people.

From Here to Eternity AMC Filmsite Page
AMC gives a little background, a little synopsis, and some fun facts on its film site.

From Here to Eternity TCM Page
The Mecca of Classic Movies brings you some film clips and a capsule Leonard Maltin review of From Here to Eternity, along with some other stuff.


From Here to Eternity by James Jones
This is the book itself—a veritable behemoth in length compared to the movie (the movie runs about two hours, while the book is plus-800 pages). Considered one of the greatest World War II novels, the novel is also considerably racier.


From Here to Eternity (1979 Miniseries)
This miniseries starring Natalie Wood and William Devane was fairly well reviewed when it came out. But given that the movie already existed in classic form, why fight the mountain?

From Here to Eternity (1980)
This TV series version also starred William Devane (the dude from all those gold-hoarding commercials) and ran for about eleven episodes.


From Here to Eternity (2014)
This musical comes courtesy of Tim Rice—the guy who wrote the lyrics for The Lion King. People apparently liked it—and who wouldn't, coming from the guy who made "Hakuna Matata" a universal motto?

Articles and Interviews

"A History of the Oscar Powerhouse From Here to Eternity" by Allen Barra
Barra's article goes deep—picking apart the Sinatra horse-head rumors and describing how the movie actually got made and all the challenges that arose.

New York Times Review of From Here to Eternity by A.W.
This original New York Times review expressed total love for From Here to Eternity. Considering that the movie has endured this long, kudos to the reviewer for knowing a good thing when he saw it.

"From Here to Eternity Was a Racy Film… But the Book was Even Stronger" by John Patterson
Patterson explains how James Jones' book was originally pretty explicit, gonorrhea and all. They had to tone that down for the movie, a bit.

"David Thomson on Films: From Here to Eternity" by David Thomson
This retrospective review is highly approving—Thomas was particularly bowled over by Alma's speech about wanting to be "proper."

"From Here to Eternity: an Iconic Film" by David Gritten
Gritten describes the making of From Here to Eternity with all its challenges. The article puts Fred Zinnemann, the director, in an especially positive light (rightly so, it seems).

Roger Ebert Remembers Burt Lancaster
Ebert mentions From Here to Eternity in paying tribute to Lancaster's illustrious career.

The Paris Review Interviews James Jones (Author of the Original Novel, From Here to Eternity)
Paris Review interviews are considered the literary interviews, which gives you an idea of James Jones' high standing. Since From Here to Eternity was his most famous book, he naturally talks about it here.

Deborah Kerr Interview
In this interview, conducted when she was eighty, Kerr reminisces and recalls how hard she worked to change her English accent in order to play Karen Holmes.

"Pearl Harbor: Three Films" by Mark Glancy
Glancy discusses the historical accuracy of three movies about Pearl Harbor—including From Here to Eternity.


From Here to Eternity's Original Theatrical Trailer
The original trailer consists mainly of text against a background—but it ends with the famous kiss on the beach. See? They already knew it was going to be a thing.

Montgomery Clift Interview
Clift talks about his career and also tells the interviewer what he thinks about interviews.

Clip of the Famous Kiss on the Beach
Here's the famous scene itself—the iconic moment, the immortal instant. It's amazing how fast it actually happens.

Clip: Montgomery Clift Solos on the Bugle
Clift learned how to play the bugle for the role, but this is definitely an overdub.

Clip: Soldiers Playing "Re-Enlistment Blues"
They really wanted this song to catch on and played it a bunch of times during the movie. The guy on guitar is a famous country guitarist from the era, Merle Travis.


Fred Zinnemann Discusses making From Here to Eternity
The director dishes about how From Here to Eternity was made. You can still hear his German accent (many of the great directors from this era were refugees from Germany—Zinnemann and Billy Wilder among them). Also, he hated the miniseries and TV versions.

Merle Travis Sings "Re-Enlistment Blues"
Travis—who plays the guitar-playing character Sal Anderson in the movie—performs the movie's central tune.

Floyd Kramer Plays "Re-Enlistment Blues"
Here's another version, courtesy of Floyd Kramer.

Guenter Johannes Kalina Plays "Re-Enlistment Blues" on the Zither
Ah, the zither—a weird, weird instrument. This guy does a striking version of "Re-Enlistment Blues" with it.


A Still of the Famous Beach Kissing Scene
You kind of need to see it in motion to really "get it" though.

A Poster for From Here to Eternity
This poster relied on the already classic kiss scene to pump up the movie.

Another Poster
This poster talks about From Here to Eternity being based on "The boldest book of our time."

Yet Another Poster
This poster came from after the movie's initial release, as you can tell by the way it touts the movie's eight Oscars.

Montgomery Clift as Robert E. Lee Prewitt
Despite not really looking like a boxer, Clift made the role work in a huge way. Note the Hawaiian shirt.

Frank Sinatra as Angelo Maggio
This was Sinatra's huge movie breakthrough. No wonder he looks so happy.

Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes
Kerr had to switch from English duchess mode (her typical kind of role) to American beach-kissing mode for this movie.

Burt Lancaster as Sgt. Warden
Here's Lancaster standing in the rain, ready to hit on Karen Holmes.

Donna Reed as Alma/Lorene
Reed holds a cigarette and reclines seductively in The New Congress Club.

Fred Zinnemann, the Director
Here's Zinnemann—also known for the all-time classics A Man for All Seasons and High Noon.

James Jones, Author of the Novel From Here to Eternity
Jones had a rep as a tough-guy writer—along the lines of Hemingway. That kind of shows through here.

Daniel Taradash, the Screenwriter
Taradash, ace adapter of scripts, rocks a blazer and tie in this photo.

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