It’s summer, and perhaps a few of you are visiting Hawaii. Most people think of sunshine, sandy beaches, luaus. We think of classic movies.
And one of our favorites is 1953’s From Here to Eternity. Our Books 2 Movies maven Larry Michie is helping us today to compare the film to the novel.
As you probably know, both concern the antics of restless GI’s in Hawaii just before the the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” to quote President Franklin Roosevelt.
The 1951 novel by James Jones set against this disaster is pretty raw stuff. The movie? Not as much.
To make the point, our Books 2 Movies maven Larry details today what DID NOT make it from the novel to the movie.
1 — In the novel, the Army brass held stag parties, complete with whiskey, whores, and private rooms for cavorting.
2 — In the book, Karen (Deborah Kerr) had 12-year-old son by her husband. She nonetheless was bitter about the hysterectomy she was given without consultation, so she could have no more children. In the movie she blames her husband for coming home drunk while she was pregnant with a child, whom she lost. Her childlessness in the movie is a clear difference from the novel.
3 — Karen’s husband (Philip Ober) was a Lt., not a Captain until well into the book. In the movie, he’s a Captain throughout.
4 –Karen had long blonde hair. In the movie she had a curly mop-top.
5 — Prew’s (Montgomery Clift) girlfriend, Laurene (Donna Reed), revealed her real name late in the game. In the book, she spoke right up in calling herself Alma from the get-go.
6 — In the movie, Laurene and the other girls were hostesses, although they were clearly good-time girls. In the novel, they were simply whores. Prew already had dumped his local girlfriend, and he fell hard for Laurene, frequently referred to as the princess.
7 — It’s kind of corny but charming : The movie manages to insert some of Prew’s friends in the barracks playing guitars and singing The Re-enlistment Blues. In the novel, the guys with guitars haul out their instruments in nighttime while out on maneuvers, and they collaborate on the lyrics as they go along.
8 — In the novel, Prew is court-marshalled after a trumped-up charge, and he’s too damned hard-headed to plead guilty to a minor infraction. He gets sent to the rock pile, where he meets a kind of guru who is vouched for by Maggio (Frank Sinatra), who is also breaking rocks.
Maggio’s defiance lands him in The Hole, where he eventually dies. (Severely injured, he escapes detention in the movie, and dies on a deserted road in Prew’s arms.) Prew vows retribution when he can catch up with Fatso (Ernest Borgnine), who is responsible for Maggio’s death.
In the movie, Fatso earlier has a run-in with Maggio in a bar, but Sargent Warden (Burt Lancaster) steps in to stop the fight. Fatso vows the get The Wop, as Maggio is regularly called. Later, Maggio gets picked up for drunkenness, and Fatso throws Maggio in the slammer.
In both the novel and the movie, Prew eventually gets Fatso in an alley and a knife fight ensues. It’s probably like a realistic knife fight — quick stabs after some circling. Fatso dies, but Prew is badly hurt as well. He gets to the house in a nice section of town where Lurlene/Alma lives with another girl of the night, and they manage to bandage him up.
9 — Sargent Warden and others attempt to cover up for Prew, who stays out of sight. But Alma and her girlfriend are right to be worried. Prew, who is utterly committed to life in the Army, misses that comradeship and is fearful that he might be discovered.
He has two major pastimes at Alma’s house. One is reading, and Alma’s girlfriend brings home book after book that Prew devours. The other hobby, alas, is getting dead drunk day after day after day. He’s so lost and confused that he treats Alma badly, and even she begins to get fed up.
Then, dramatically, the Japanese attack (on Dec. 7, 1941), and Prew knows where he must go. He steals a pistol from Alma and sets out to get back to Schofield barracks. He makes his way down to the beach, but there are patrolling soldiers there, and they are jumpy about reports that the Japanese may be infiltrating the island, and so forth.
When Prew tries to run away, the solders shoot and Prew dies. Sargent Warden comes along to identify the dead Prew. (In this respect the movie follows the book.)
Thanks, Larry. Many of us have favorite novels which have been turned into films. Some well, some not so good. What about you? Any of your favorite novels destroyed by Hollywood? Or did tinsel town do justice to your favored tomes?