Sunday, April 03, 2005

There is something in watching a classically structured narrative - a story when an unforseen tragedy impedes on lives being lived. From Here to Eternity ends with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack is addressed as an aside, something that happens outside of the web of the characters' lives yet it is also the harbinger of things to come. As one of the oldest cliches goes, things will never be the same again.

Called by many as the movie that Pearl Harbor wanted to be (but never was, not even halfway!), it is easy to see why Eternity was something of a shocker for its time. In the age of the production code, the film's characters are either prostitutes, adulterers, or misfits. Plus it has the famous (and incredibly sexy) romp in the sand between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. (The moment is so brief that it almost flashes past unnoticed but it's erotic charge is undeniable.) What is more, it deals with these things without cheap moralizing and sanctimony. Director Fred Zinneman has directed Eternity with supreme restraint. Not a shot calls attention to itself (although there is one, during the attack - an aerial shot of soldiers in white lying flat on the ground shot from the point of view of a Japanese plane - that is breathtaking.) Instead, this is an actor's movie with not a single wrong note. Montgomery Clift is the shy, tortured hero and he strikes the right balance between heartbreaking need and tough bravado. So does Burt Lancaster whose looks kept diverting my attention from his performance. And then there are Frank Sinatra (How someone who looks so ugly can have such a divine voice is something I've never figured out), Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed - all of whom, make not a single misstep.

Eternity does not go all the way, of course. James Jones' novel is considerably denser than the movie and Deborah Kerr's character Karen Homes actually has a son. But it has all the things that matter - good, solid writing, character development, a lack of sentimentality and above all, splendid performances. All of the things that Pearl Harbor did not.

No comments: