Wondering what kind of movies won the Best Picture Oscar 50 years ago? The kind directed by Fred Zinnemann, with stars ó make that actors ó like Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed (Best Supporting Actress), Frank Sinatra (Best Supporting Actor), and Ernest Borgnine. The kind (it could almost be a John Ford movie) about men who go to war and the women who donít understand them. The kind where the reassuring music makes you think everythingís going to be all right, except it doesnít work out that way.
I had never seen From Here to Eternity until I rented it this past weekend. The legendary smooching-in-the-surf scene with Kerr and Lancaster was a revelation, so fleeting and unsexy. And the film can be schematic and formulaic, in the easy way it "corrects" the menís hazing of Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift) because he wonít box for them, or in Prewittís predictable, melodramatic end, or that of Maggio (Sinatra). But like the seemingly brittle Kerr and the seemingly stiff Lancaster, itís teeming with life just underneath the Hollywood surface. Boxing aside, the Army comes away with a hell of a shiner. And does the "Treatment" Prewitt undergoes conceal a homoerotic subtext? (Frank to Montgomery: "You got any prejudice against girls?") As for the way Deborah says "Iíve got a bathing suit under my dress" to Burt (he answers "Me too"), it makes you forget that her suit is hardly form-fitting and instead wonder whatís underneath. Clift blows a hell of a bugle on "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," and at the end Donna Reed gets to spring one last surprise. From Here to Eternity has been around for 50 years and might just make it to, well, eternity. This yearís Best Picture Oscar nominees will be lucky to last 50 years.