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The story begins with the arrival of rebellious private Robert 'Prew' Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) at a rifle company at Schoefield Barracks on the island of Oahu. Almost as soon as he unpacks, Prewitt is approached by Captain Holmes (Phillip Ober) to join the company's boxing team. Despite his talent and reputation as a successful middleweight boxer, Prew adamantly refuses to box after previously blinding a friend while sparring. Infuriated at being refused his own way, Holmes begins a campaign against Prew, and with the help of several officers harasses Prew to the verge of a mental and physical breakdown in hopes of torturing him into agreeing to box. Fortunately, Prew is aided by his brash but loyal friend, Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), and the hidden efforts of First Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster), who is glad at any chance to foil Holmes' plans. Meanwhile, Prew begins a romance with social-climbing call-girl 'Lorene' Alma Burke (Donna Reed) as Warden begins an affair with Holmes' promiscuous wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). Eventually the clashes between Prew and Maggio and military command reach a heated climax just as war comes to Hawaii.
While numerous films have featured World War II (and specifically the attack on Pearl Harbor) in their plots, few films were able to do so on such a poignant level. The characters in From Here To Eternity, while engaging and mostly likable, are far from ideal. Between Warden and Karen's adulterous affair, Alma's dubious profession, Angelo's alcoholism, and Prew's troubled past, the film is populated with people who hardly fit the standard view of heroism, but still manage to act with courage and dignity when faced with national tragedy. Throughout its running time, the film displays its characters in an honest light that allows them to be true to life while remaining in context of the greater history surrounding them. It is this sober look at the lives of those affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor that provides the story with its true resonance through its portrayal of the attack's devastating affects on people whom viewers will inevitably see themselves in. As a result, the film allows viewers a glimpse into the daily lives of the ordinary Americans who lived, loved, and lost in the days leading up to that fateful morning in December, 1941.
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The film's sharply written script is brought to life by a truly stellar cast. Montgomery Clift's understated performance as Prew reveals his character's basic decency while still hinting at the painful past behind his quiet demeanor, and makes the humble soldier an everyman viewers will be glad to root for. Burt Lancaster nearly steals the film from Clift in his portrayal of the morally ambiguous Warden, which ensures that the sergeant is fascinating and believable even as his motives remain murky. The otherwise understated proceedings are enlivened by Frank Sinatra's explosive performance as the equal parts comic and tragic Maggio. Rounding out the cast are Donna Reed and Deborah Kerr as two women who have turned their backs on conventional mores after learning the hard way that good girls don't always finish first. The performances of its two leading ladies provides an honest observation of the ways in which the social and economic double standards of the era forced some women to the margins of the very society that they had struggled to fit into.
President Roosevelt was right when he said that December 7, 1941 was a day that would live in infamy. As the decades continue to pass the memories of that tragic date will continue to live on in our nation's consciousness. Through works such as this film, the tragedy and heroism at Pearl Harbor will continue to be understood and appreciated by future generations as more than just historical dates and facts. Through its expert writing, acting, and emotional impact, From Here To Eternity is a true cinema classic and will remain such from now until eternity.
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