Wednesday, July 11, 2007

20:07 (The Sergeant and the Captain's Wife)

screenshots from the 20th minute and 7th second of a movie
I can't guarantee the same results at home (different players/timing) I use a VLC
This series returns to its regular weekday schedule on July 16th

Mrs. Holmes: Well, if it isn't Sergeant Warden... you better step inside or you'll get wet.
Sgt Warden: I am wet.

Mrs. Holmes: If you're looking for the captain he isn't here.
Sgt Warden: And if I'm not looking for him?
Mrs. Holmes:
He still isn't here.


And so begins a torrid affair on an army base in Hawaii just before America goes to war. It'd be fair to replace "torrid" with bipolar, too. From Here to Eternity's adulterous lovers (Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster) jump from a cold fish meet & greet in their first scene to a confusing make out session (in this, their second scene) to a "no! but yes but no but yes!" affair in the ocean waves --you've seen their lovemaking in the waves even if you've never seen the movie -- despite the fact that they've already had their 'no but yes but no' conversation.

Hot (left) and Cold (right) within seconds...Kerr and Lancaster switch temperatures

About that conversation. After the wonderfully terse flirtation in the rain (quoted above) the emotional content of their navigation into choppy affair waters is clear but the dialogue gets cloudy --at least to my modern ears. This is Mrs. Holmes again...
You're doing fine sergeant. My husband is off somewhere and it's raining outside and we're both drinking now. You probably only got one thing wrong: the lady herself. The lady is not what she seems. She's a washout if you know what I mean. And I'm sure you know what I mean.
Actually Mrs. Holmes, I don't. I have a suspicion but it seems awfully risque for a 50s movie. Even if it is a sudsy epic like this one.

The most modern characteristic about From Here To Eternity's frisky couplings is how noncommittal and indecisive they all are; both frequently fighting couples (the other pairing is Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed who won the supporting Actress Oscar) make love declarations but in all four of these enemy love combatants you end up wondering about their sincerity or at least their capacity for self-delusion. Are any of these people really in love?

Maybe Donna Reed as "the 'Princess' Lorene" is. She's the most sidelined character but she's intriguing. She works in a members only club entertaining the soldiers. As a self-reliant pragmatist she resists her dreamy man's romantic vision of the future for a good long while. But once she finally gives in, converting to his way of thinking --more of a marital mind recognizably 50s way-- she's undone. Maybe the film making team wasn't viewing it that way but it reads so from a modern perspective.

From Here to Eternity is set in 1941 but it's unmistakeably of it's time. The 50s are such a fascinating decade for film. We have this picture of the decade as being very sanitized and repressed but in so many films there are visibly adult undercurrents... maybe repression is an overstatement. Was their a visible itch that was constantly being scratched? In a lot of 50s films you can feel the upheaval of the 60s coming --and I don't think that's entirely a byproduct of "hindsight is 20/20". I really don't.

Have you seen this 1953 Best Picture Winner? Your thoughts please ...


Y Kant Goran Rite said...

It's rare that one man's torso overwhelms an entire (relatively decent) movie in my memory, but..


you're pro'lly speaking of athletic Lancaster but when i hear torso and 'from here to eternity' it's all about Monty, lean and mean, digging that ditch, taping his wounds, sweating, or

,,, where was I


but i also really like donna reed in this: i almost wanna force 1953 on stinkylulu for a smackdown.

Curtis said...

I love this movie. Recently watched it and was amazed at how powerful it still is.

Deborah said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about the repression and the smouldering undercurrent. These are sinners, sinners, sinners all the way, and that's what makes it a great movie.

ant said...

Speaking of sinners, you should read the book. There's a surprising amount of gay sex in it--specifically between some of the main characters (I think including Monty Clift) and random guys. It's in the old style working class vein where Monty isn't gay 'cause he's on top, but the sex is still going on. An incredibly long, often boring book, but worth reading for that alone. *uhhh, and while I'm at it, I didn't really get the gay-sex-not-gay thing until I read Gay New York.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the entire book (it IS long...), but love the movie, especially said undercurrent, and the performances are brilliant throughout.
Although I agree with Nathaniel: It's so much more about Monty than Lancaster for me...;-) It's kind of a joke he didn't get the Oscar for this one.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right about that in some 50s movies you feel the 60s coming. I actually haven't that feeling with From Here to Eternity (haven't seen it for years and was underwhelmed, expected something comletely different with *that* love scene), but i DID have it with a lot of other 50s movies.
Rebel Without a Cause is... well the most obvious.
But I also see the 60s in Giant (feminist discussions in Texas) and The Nun's Story (the ending)...

Well... erm... good work!

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Reading the book, there's no mistaking Karen's "washout" comment. The novel was very "adult" for 1951, when it was the #1 bestseller.

But, hey, ant, although I remember Karen being unapologetically trampy, I missed all those gay sex references in the novel, and I think my copy was unabridged. Wonder if they're highlighted in the Cliff Notes verison?

For me, Clift's at his peak in this (that "taps" trumpet scene should have clinched the Oscar for him), The Heiress, and his star-making 1948 double header, The Search (where, oh where, is the DVD?) and Red River. Somehow, Clift never received any major awards (Lancaster won the New York Film Critics Award for Eternity, and he's great, but he doesn't come close to the dramatic range Clift shows in his searing portrayal of Prewitt). There must of been some bias going on among critics and voters (Sexuality? Reckless lifestyle?) as the performances speak for themselves, and hold up powerfully over fifty years later.