Hello Everybody. Mr. Joe Morella and Mr. Frank Segers back again while Mrs. Norman Maine is outside at the barbecue preparing a luau (lomi salmon and kalua pig are her specialties).
We’re in a Hawaii frame of mind today because we’re focusing on that Columbia Pictures classic, 1953’s “From Here To Eternity.” This excellent movie is set there, and was actually filmed in the 50th state.
Its plot, about roistering GI’s on the loose in Pearl Harbor just before that Dec. 7, 1941 attack, always struck us as a tough and sexy, but nowhere near as raw and real as its source material. (After all, it was made during the oh-so-proper Fifties!) The movie seems to only hint at what is explicit in the book.
So we asked our Books 2 Movies maven Larry Michie to dig in, and compare the novel to the film to see if our hunch is correct.
We like the movie so much that we are devoting a series of blogs covering Larry’s revelations about the original James Jones book as compared with the Fred Zinnemann movie. Some of his conclusions might by surprise you.
So, let’s get going with the first of Larry’s reports.
“From Here to Eternity” ranks as one of the best Book 2 Movie ever made. Despite the staggering 650 pages, the book translates beautifully to the screen. The essence of the James Jones novel was captured perfectly by director Fred Zinnemann, and the famous scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in passionate embrace on the beach (see photo above) has long since been established as a Hollywood icon.
But hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen.
The novel is brimming over with challenging and sometimes shocking depictions of army life just before the famous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And despite a title borrowed from Kipling’s Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree, Damned from Here to Eternity, the ranks of real gentlemen in the novel are few indeed.
Bear in mind, however, that many of the army’s enlisted men signed up during the Great Depression because there were few or no jobs available to working-class men. The army provided grub and enough pay to allow soldiers to get drunk now and then. Sgt. Milt Warden (Lancaster in the movie) was a lifer, a highly efficient manager who kept his company humming.
Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) was from impoverished coal mining country, namely Harlan County, Kentucky, and Maggio (Frank Sinatra) had a menial job at a Manhattan department store. By the way, Prewitt was raped at age twelve after he climbed into a boxcar in an attempt to flee poverty. (That’s NOT in the movie.)
These were uneducated men without a future. The army suited them just fine. One man in the company had served in World War One, and a few had been involved in the Philippines. They didn’t have a lot of professional options.
All that is in part a way of warning readers of the book that the men stationed in Hawaii were not always decent and polite.
Ethnic slurs were commonplace. Maggio was often referred to as The Wop. It’s easy to guess the terms employed regarding African-Americans. And although there were Jews in the mix, they were the subject of vicious derision.
Aside from all that, things were about perfect … NOT.
James Jones was not an elegant writer, and the prose of the novel is as rough-hewn as the enlisted men who are portrayed. But if you get hooked on the huge, hard-edged depiction of a rough and rugged time in the life of our country, you’ll know that you’ve been given a realistic ride through times that were challenging indeed.
In Larry’s next report, he’ll get down to the specific subjects covered at length in “From Here To Eternity” the book but left completely out of “From Here To Eternity” the movie. So, stay tuned.