Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Daniel Taradash
When I took a vacation to Hawaii a year or two ago one of the lasting memories I had was of the beautiful beaches all over Oahu. Honestly it is easily the best vacation I’ve ever been on. As a movie lover i was excited to see the famous Eternity Beach, named for the famous scene from this movie (see above picture). But much to my embarassment, and despite my excitement, I had not seen the film to that point. Well, now I have and thanks to stars like Burt Lancaster, whom I am slowing falling in love with (Sweet Smell of Success and Field of Dreams), Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr, whenever I go back to Hawaii and see Eternity Beach I can say with pride I have seen the film, and it is just as classic as that beach. Oh yea, Ernest Borgnine shows up here too.
Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift) is a private with a history who has just transferred to 3rd Company based on Oahu. He quickly befriends Pvt. Maggio (Sinatra), but is not a quick fit for the regiment, whose Capt. (Philip Ober) wants Prewitt to box on the company team, but when Prewitt refuses he gives him a hell of a time, disciplining him at any chance. Meanwhile the company’s Sgt. (Lancaster) is smitten with the captain’s wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). Add that to the romance Prewitt finds with club girl Lorene (Donna Reed) and the impending doom of December 7, 1941, and a powerful film results.
I think the most surprising part of this film was just how little Eternity Beach factored into the film. Sure, it is a fairly important moment in the affair between Sgt. Warden and Karen Holmes, but the moment is so fleeting I am somewhat surprised it became so iconic. Though I can certainly see why it is because not only is it a beautiful beach (I’ve seen it in person remember, I would know), but it is also a beautifully composed shot, with the tide rolling in over the couple kissing passionately on the beach. It is definitely a romantic shot, which brings me to my next surprise: this is a much more manly film than I expected. I even caught my dad watching from time to time.
The romance part of the film is certainly handled very nicely and Clift/Reed, Lancaster/Kerr are a big part of that, creating sincere romantic relationships amid the more serious aspects of military life. My apologies, what could be more serious than romance and love. But the rest of the film is really gritty, which took me by surprise. The main conflict in the film is between Captain Holmes and Prewitt, which at the end of the day seems a bit childish: captain punishes private for not boxing. But the way in which it is handled by Fred Zinnemann, whom I’ve not heard of though I have heard of his films oddly enough, is great. It really feels like a war film more than anything most of the time. Guys giving guys a hard time and Frank Sinatra really surprised me too. This might be the first film I have seen him in.
Sinatra’s character, who acts as the closest friend and perpetual drunk to the determined straightforward Prewitt, is strangely endearing considering his knack at drunken misconduct. It is a well put together film and not really anything like I expected. Perhaps not the best romance, or best war film, but certainly miles better than another Pearl Harbor romance film, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. C’mon, I had to bring it up. You know I had to. Alright, I’ll admit it, despite being about a couple love affairs between soldiers in Hawaii just as the tragedy of Pearl Harbor is about to happen, these two movies don’t belong in the same conversation. One is good, one is bad.