From Here To Eternity (1953) Directed By Fred Zinnemann
As the legend used to go , before Brando, before Dean there was...Montgomery Clift. As a teenager I developed a serious crush on Clift. I read all the books going (Patrica Bosworth's biography is best if interested) and watched all the movies. Dexys Midnight Runners had him on the cover of the There, There, My Dear single and both The Clash and REM have sung songs about him. Truffaut was obsessed with his eyes. The young Elizabeth Taylor was infatuated by him. He turned down the lead roles in High Noon, On The Waterfront, East Of Eden and Sunset Boulevard. Others profited from his poor choices. Yet the choices he did make were not often great. In a lot of his films, Clift is often the only good thing about them. He always played the conflicted outsider and in many ways, he was the original method actor. He had one of the most tragic film star lives. He drank and popped pills and never reconciled himself over his homosexuality. He had a bad car crash in 1957 that left half his face paralyzed and destroyed his good looks. The before and after the crash movies are always easy to spot. He died aged 44 a cracked actor, uninsurable and alone. Too old to become legendary yet.... still very young. And he has largely been forgotten. For those of us in the know, he's the real deal.
From Here To Eternity is almost the quintessential Clift movie. That doesn't make it his best but in some ways it's the one which carries his essence most. Clift plays Robert E Lee Prewitt, a private in the Navy who refuses to fight for the regiment's boxing team. The company turn the screws and give him the "treatment" which in effect relegates Clift to the level of the company dog. His stubbornness and will not to give in make him the eternal outsider. There are many romantic sub plots and melodramas played out in this film. It is like watching an overblown soap opera at times. They even manage to fit in the invasion of Pearl Harbor. The film won Oscars and was a huge commercial success.
The cast for this film is like a Hollywood who's who. Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Jack Warden and Ernest Borgnine. All the performances are great, and for Kerr and Sinatra this was a career saving movie. The script is sharp and although it tones down a lot of the adult themes of James Jones' source novel, it still must have seemed risky in 1953. Zinnemann adopts a neo-realist look for the film which sometimes work's but some times looks flat. The direction plods at times. However, this film does boast one iconic cinema moment, Kerr and Lancaster rolling around in a lovers embrace amongst the sand and the waves. I don't think this film is so well regarded these days, it's critical standing has certainly faded over the years. But don't let that put you off.
It's hard for me to be remotely objective about this film. It reminds me of a time when life was so less complicated. And at the heart of the film there's the outsider sensitivity of the late, great and forgotten Montgomery Clift. An all time fave.