Tuesday, June 27, 2006

From Here To Eternity

From Here to EternityAs part of my ongoing mission to catch up on the classics, I watched From Here To Eternity, for the first time this week.

The DVD, released four years ago, but still selling at a premium price - so it has staying power, is packaged in a rather cheap 'colorised' cover which I found rather offputting. Big movies were being made in widescreen and in colour back in 1953 when it was first released, but director Fred Zinnemann preferred to go with the 'standard' format size and use black and white, against the advice of the studio. The few snippets of the film shown in colour on one of the accompanying extra's can't help but make me think it would be more approachable to modern audiences if it had been made in colour.

The transfer to DVD is excellent, although the picture is not up to the 'digital restoration' standard one might hope for - there are a lot of white flecks throughout the film, presumable because of problems with finding a quality negative to use as the source. But it's certainly better than many of the transfers of similar classics from around the same period.

The lack of colour is only a small criticism because ultimately the film stands up very well, even today. A mixture of drama, comedy and buddy war movie the script is sharp and quick-moving, and the cast are uniformly excellent.

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are probably the names most associated with the film because of the infamous beach scene where the two are embracing on the sand as waves rush over them - very racy stuff for the time, with the censors apparently wanting the speed of the wave rushing towards the couple slowed down to make the scene seem less steamy! But for me it's Montgomery Clift who steals the show. He plays the rebel of the movie, Prewitt, but unlike the James Deans and Marlon Brando's, who were also playing somewhat stereotypical rebels in other movies released around the same time, Clift plays a rebel with morals and a good heart, and he delivers a wonderfully subtle performance that has you on his side from the get-go. The actor has real on-screen sex appeal that makes the studio's initial insistence that he was not right for the part, and his real life problems with his sexuality all the more tragic.

Other movie stalwarts Frank Sinatra and Ernest Borgnine put in strong performances too, and it's amazing to read that the whole movie was made in just 41 days for a budget of under $2 million.

The DVD features a commentary from Zinnemann's son and one of the minor actors, and for 45 minutes it's interesting and informative, but then they run out of steam and it all starts to fall apart. The 'Making of' featurette also included is more like a trailer than anything else - just a few minutes long. An interview with Zinnemann is more interesting, the more so because it includes the director's own colour footage behind the scenes. And there's even a little booklet with chapter index and production notes included too.

The film was a huge success and won eight of the thirteen oscars it was nominated for - and it's not hard to see why, given that it still holds up well more than fifty years after it was made. After seeing Casablanca a few weeks ago, and now this, I'm beginning to realise just how much I've missed out on by ignoring some of the great cinema classics of the past.

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