From Here to Eternity (Blu-ray)

September 20, 2013 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“A man don’t go his own way, he’s nothin’.”

The words of one Robert E. Lee Prewett (Montgomery Clift) as he is trying to resist the offers of his superiors as they want to force him to box in the Army. From Here to Eternity isn’t just the story of a lone boxer, though. What most of us remember about the film is the immortal love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr as they frolic on the beach, kissing, as the ocean waves crash against their bodies. From Here to Eternity was directed by Fred Zinnemann, coming off of his success of High Noon, he was granted a lot of authority to do what he wanted with the movie. Some controversy surrounded the film, however, most notably how Frank Sinatra (who plays Angelo Maggio in the film) got his part. Word had it that the studio chief of Columbia Pictures found a horse’s head in his bed (a scene that was played out in The Godfather) and low and behold, Sinatra got the part. Sinatra also won an Academy Award for his role and again, word abounded that maybe someone made the Academy an “offer they couldn’t refuse”. Nevertheless, the part revitalized Sinatra’s career.

From Here to Eternity is based on the book by James Jones, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. It’s the story of a company bugler (Clift) who has just transferred to a new company. He’s taken a demotion to get the assignment he wants and, as luck would have it, he’s a boxer. Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober) has pulled a few strings to get Prewett in his command, essentially to get him to box for the company. When Prewett refuses on the basis that he has injured another man (he once blinded a fellow boxer in the ring); he is subject to something known as “œThe Treatment”. Prewett is an antihero, someone who fights the odds of convention no matter what the cost. He begins to see Lorene (Donna Reed), someone who loves him and wants him to quit the insanity of the army. However his love for the life has him in constant struggle for what is wrong and what it right. On the other side, we have Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster), the assistant to the Captain who loves the Army as much as life itself. His aim is to keep the Captain happy even though he has risked it all by having an illicit affair with the Captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr).

What most viewers don’t realize is that From Here to Eternity is a war movie, set just before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The film was shot on location in Hawaii (most of it, anyway) and a rather big-budget movie at the time when it was released. The supporting characters of Ernest Borgnine and Frank Sinatra turn this from an epic love story into a drama for the ages. From Here to Eternity covers a lot of bases with its two plus hour running time and though its hard to label it as any particular kind of movie, it has stood the test of time as both a great war movie, love story and drama. Montgomery Clift would make a career out of his characters flouting convention, much like his character of George Eastman in A Place in the Sun. Lancaster, who really wasn’t cast as the lead here, gave the performance of his career (the role he’s most associated with) and even though controversy surrounded Sinatra’s Oscar, it was one of his better roles. While the film is now fifty years old, it has been honored with countless awards, including Best Picture of 1953 and even a spot on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 movies of all time (#52) though it fell off the 2007 AFI list. If you’ve never seen the film, this is the way to see it and if, for nothing else, the scene on the beach. Highly recommended.

Video: How’s it look?

The film had two incarnations on standard DVD with a regular issue and then a Superbit release.  For those that don’t remember, the Superbit DVD’s dropped the features in favor of superior audio and video.  It’s been about a decade since I’ve seen this movie and my last memory of it was the Superbit release, so I was curious to see how this looked on Blu-ray.  Sony has taken care of this title and has even tailored a new 4K scan for this Blu-ray release. Presented in a full-frame black and white image, the movie won’t fill up your screen, but right away I did notice an increase in sharpness that wasn’t present before. The movie had always had somewhat of a soft look and feel to it and with increased contrast and black levels seeming more solid, I feel that this is, by far, the best the film has ever looked on a home video format.  For comparison’s sake, there are a few scenes of the movie in the featurettes, so you can see how improved the picture is. It’s easy to be spoiled by some of the newer releases, but for a film that’s now sixty years old it looks pretty darn good. I doubt anyone will be disappointed.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The movie now sports a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track and while I won’t say it’s the best out there, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Vocals are very solid and lack any sort of distortion that might be associated with a film of this age.  While the sonics are rather limited, the Pearl Harbor scene does sound pretty good.  While it’s nice to look on the back of the box and see the new sound mix, I’d liken it to a decent-sounding surrounding mix.  As with the video, however, it’s an improvement and viewers should be more than happy with this mix.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As I mentioned earlier, this movie has had a special edition DVD release as well as a featureless Superbit DVD release.  So what’s a decade of waiting and a new format done?  Well we now get the best picture and audio along with the supplements.  The features are the same as those that appeared on the special edition DVD, though we do get a new Picture-in-picture commentary track. Here’s the rundown of the features.

  • Audio Commentary – Fred Zinnemann’s son, Tim, and one of the few surviving cast members in Alvin Sargent.  The duo make for a pretty interesting track, though non-screen specific we do get some interesting tidbits about the cast and crew –  namely Montgomery Clift who evidently had a hard time shaking the role even after the shoot had ended.  It’s the same track that appeared on the DVD, so if you listened to it there, it’s the same here.
  • “The Making of From Here to Eternity – Is a bit misleading, it’s a 2:20 minute feature with some clips from the film and a few tidbits about the book.
  • “Fred Zinnemann: As I See It” – This is a bit more robust in that it runs nearly 10 minutes as we get the history of the controversial book, the casting of the movie and some of Zinnemann’s home movies from the set (oddly in color).
  • Eternal History – Graphics-in-Picture Track – The lone new supplement to the film is pretty interesting indeed.  For anyone that’s seen a PIP track, this is what it is.  We’re inundated with little facts in text form throughout and we get some video scenes from various members of the media and those associated with the film.  This is a nice addition to the audio commentary and well worth it to watch.

Disc Scores