America kept a neutral stance during the Second World War until the Imperial Japanese Navy made a surprise military strike on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This was what my grandfather told me after I saw "From Here to Eternity" on cable. I didn't pay particular attention to this black-and-white film until Frank Sinatra swore in one scene. Could it be possible during the studio days? This drama was a bit too talky, Grandpa surmised. He thought that the viewers would miss it. Moreover, it was rather mild compared to the book where the movie was based from.
James Jones wasn't part of the reading list during my first year, but an older coursemate happened to read "From Here to Eternity". Fred Zinnemann's celluloid version achieved immortality after the fleeting shot of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing each other passionately on the beach. He was a non-commissioned officer, she was the neglected wife of a career soldier. Their case was one of many that revealed the shocking truth about America. Venereal diseases couldn't be discussed openly as before, Grandpa said. There was more to private social clubs, he added. And sexual abuse was hushed up. I could imagine the next-door image after watching a musical starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. War would turn out to be a blessing in disguise for these people, which would put an end to their agony (or false hope).
If the events in "From Here to Eternity" were held on the mainland, then the book would hardly be noticed at all. Hawaii was secluded from the rest of the states, where Jones would suggest that it was good enough to do something and get away with it. Authors could force their readers to try to understand their characters, but it rather seemed easier said than done. If it would be someone from the neighborhood, then I could expect most adopting a black-and-white attitude.
And why the tangled lives of soldiers and their wives (or lovers) would be significant
Zinnemann shot his film in black and white, which exposed the tension and sadness in this remote military base. Montgomery Clift was perfectly cast in this drama, his melancholic eyes could give the viewers an idea of the tragedy that would befall on these unfortunate characters. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, as the ill-crossed lovers, provided the gravitas that Jones's novel would be noted for. Many moviegoers couldn't forget the gruff appearance of Ernest Borgnine, which would make them suspicious about the darker elements of the armed forces. But this movie belonged to Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.
The wholesome Reed went against hype, playing a hostess who was patiently waiting for her Prince Charming. Sinatra was the buddy type, albeit a memorable one. Another actor might not give this character a different kind of perspective, which the likes of Sinatra could only do. And they would be good at it.
Zinnemann's adaptation seemed long, even melodramatic at times. It was the norm among dramas back then, but I wasn't fooled at all. I suspected the filmmaker made changes in the book, but only to pass through the strict moral codes during that time. But the right actors were chosen. The director worked with the good crew, who instinctively knew how he wanted to adapt the book to the big screen. "From Here to Eternity" could happen to any place in America, where prying eyes seemed too far away. History could repeat itself.