There were few movies greeted with more anticipation than Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity when it opened in 1953. Adapted from one of the best-selling novels of the previous ten years, it was a film for which everyone had high expectations. It lived up to all of them and then some, adding a new level of violence and frankness to popular dramatic films just when the public was ready to accept these elements. (However, the movie couldn't even hint at an aspect that James Jones' novel mentioned almost at its outset: the homosexual advances that Pruett parried from his former sergeant, resulting in his transfer to a rifle company.) Burt Lancaster, who'd previously established himself as a hero-victim in a series of films noirs made under the auspices of Universal and as a costume hero in a pair of Warner Bros. period adventure films (The Flame and the Arrow, The Crimson Pirate), transformed himself into the quintessential macho leading man with his performance; Montgomery Clift gave the performance of his life as Robert E. Lee Pruett, unwilling boxer and trumpet player; ex-navy enlisted man Ernest Borgnine dominated every scene he was in as Sgt. Judson, the most vicious enlisted man seen onscreen in a mainstream American movie up to that time; Deborah Kerr, previously known for her plucky, lady-like roles, got to play an unabashedly sexual woman, and a married one at that; Donna Reed, cast against type as the prostitute with delusions of her own, gave the most honest and wrenching performance of her career; and Frank Sinatra, cast against all prevailing wisdom in Hollywood (and beating out Eli Wallach for the choicest supporting role in Hollywood that year), became a great actor overnight as the doomed Maggio. Even Merle Travis, a veritable god among guitar players but an anonymous figure to most filmgoers, got a memorable scene and song ("Re-Enlistment Blues") out of the film. From Here to Eternity raised the bar for realism (and the genuine, jagged, if ugly side of life) in war movies, and in movies in general.
by Bruce Eder review