An all star cast brings James Jones sprawling book to the big screen, and is my next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my revisit with Casablanca for the Romance and Melodrama genre. Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Ernest Borgnine, Claude Akins and Jack Warden bring the story to life.
The film is set in Hawaii in 1941, unbeknownst to everyone, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is on the horizon, but everyone, it seems, is wrapped up in their own lives, and they have a lot going on!
Clift is Prew, who has just been transferred in to his new division, and his Captain, Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) has learned he used to be a pretty good boxer, and wants to recruit him to represent the company. Prew refuses, happy just to serve, and fall in love with a local social club employee, Lorene (Reed). Holmes has his men harass Prew because of this. His pal, Maggio (Sinatra) can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and his sergeant, Warden (Lancaster), is having an affair with Holmes’ wife, Karen (Kerr).
Even those who haven’t seen the film, and I was one of them, are familiar with the iconic image of Lancaster and Kerr liplocked, rolling in the surf. It’s one of those images that has seeped into the mainstream consciousness, even if people aren’t aware of where it comes from.
Filmed on location in Hawaii, the film looks beautiful in black and white.
Relationships are created, storylines interweave, and drama plays out against the island, as the climax arrives with the Japanese attack. But the film takes its time, filling its two hour runtime with character development and an involving story, allowing each of the main characters to follow their arcs, and let the viewer become emotionally involved in each of the story threads.
There is a lot of humor, a lot of drinking, a lot of trouble (I love the reveal of the date when Warden is on the phone with Karen, as well as the reminder of the event by showing the street sign) and a lot of heartache (the taps sequence is especially poignant) for the men of this company before the film comes to its conclusion (and the Japanese attack is incredibly well put together, and bone-chilling in the way the film executes it), and Zinnemann and his cast make it all very involving and wonderfully paced.
I love the differences in storytelling as I leapt from Brief Encounters to this one, the former is restrained, cool, refined, and Eternity is fiery and passionate, yet both of are completely engaging.
A strong film, with good performances, and a very solid collection of human stories that all interweave to tell tales of love, loss, friendship, loyalty, the army, and Hawaii.