Tag Archives: Burt Lancaster

From Here to Eternity (1953)

<strong class="MovieTitle">From Here to Eternity</strong> (1953)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) For all of the continued acclaim of From Here to Eternity as a classic piece of Hollywood Cinema, the film itself is often a disappointment. From its descriptions, you could maybe expect a sweeping drama set in pre-Pearl Harbor Hawaii, with high romance being interrupted by the beginning of the war. Alas, that’s just you going from the iconic beach scene and hazy memories of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor—the reality of From Here to Eternity has more to do with it being an adaptation of a gritty dramatic novel in which nobody gets a happy ending. On the menu: a sordid affair (one of many) between a traumatized housewife and an indecisive soldier; physical abuse in the military; a character falling for a high-end prostitute (oh, OK, “hostess”); and the Japanese on their way to ruin the melodrama right before the end. Also on the menu; terrifying dumb decisions from the characters to ensure that they will not get what they want (often dying in the process). As a period piece, From Here to Eternity is not that successful—until the Japanese attack, the film feels far too intimate to reflect the reality of living on a military base and the way it spends nearly all of its time in small sets does undercuts its bigger ambitions. The image of the beach romance suggested by the film’s reputation is far worse in context: Not only is the beach frolicking limited to a few seconds, it’s in support of an adulterous relationship that’s not particularly admirable, and it leads straight to a soliloquy of intense personal grief. Frame the picture of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr smooching if you want, but don’t expect the film to heighten the fantasy. This being said, much of this reaction is a reaction to the film’s sterling reputation—taken on its own, From Here to Eternity does remain a good dramatic piece, anchored by able performances by Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and (especially) Frank Sinatra, with Kerr and Donna Reed on the distaff side. Still, reading about the film (and the changes from the original novel) is often more interesting than the film itself. Overinflated expectations or under-delivering period piece—I can’t decide for now (and I suspect that watching three WW2 movies in a row due to Memorial weekend doesn’t help), although I am glad to have seen it to complete that bit of Hollywood History.

Seven Days in May (1964)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Seven Days in May</strong> (1964)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) In between Seven Days in May, Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe, 1964 was a big, big year for black-and-white techno-thrillers in Hollywood. Dr. Strangelove distinguished itself through black comedy and Fail-Safe made few compromises in showing a nightmare scenario, leaving Seven Days in May as the more average film, although this is a relative term when discussing a film in which the United States government discovers an impending military coup and tries to defuse it before it’s too late. The black-and-white cinematography highlights the non-nonsense atmosphere that the film is going for, trying to make the unthinkable at least plausible. There is something admirable to the way the film builds not to an explosive guns-and-explosion confrontation, but to a quiet climax in which the would-be traitors are sent scurrying, and the country avoids a dramatic confrontation that would have had terrible consequences. The film works hard at instilling a basic credibility to its plotting, even with some then-near-future technological touches such as video screens. The tension is there, and being able to rely on capable actors such as Kirk Douglas, Fredric March (at the close of a long career), Ava Gardner or Burt Lancaster. Director John Frankenheimer made his reputation on thriller much like Seven Days in May, and is still effective today. Compared to its two other 1964 techno-thrillers, the film has aged very well—it may be hard to imagine nuclear war today, but overthrowing a president is still within the realm of possibility…