Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

From Here to Eternity (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

From Here to Eternity (1953)

In Fred Zinnemann's provocative, Best Picture-winner (with seven other Oscars), it was an adaptation of James Jones' 1951 best-selling, hard-hitting novel of on-duty/off-duty military life among recruits in the pre-Pearl Harbor era of 1941 - on the eve of WWII. The exact title was derived from Rudyard Kipling's 1892 poem "Gentlemen-Rankers" ("damned from here to eternity"). The hefty, 859-page smoldering tale was a sprawling and complex story-line about Army life with its bold and explicit script (with strong language, violence and raw sexual content). It was a combination romance, combat and melodramatic film set (on-location) at the Schofield Barracks Army base on Oahu during peacetime just before the Pearl Harbor attack. It was at first considered unsuitable (and unfilmable) for the screen. The ground-breaking film's subjects (ill-suited for television) included prostitution, adultery, military injustice, corruption and violence, alcohol abuse, and murder. A diluted version of the explicit contents of the book was scripted by Daniel Taradash:

  • sensitive loner bugler and career soldier Pvt. Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) was recently demoted and transferred from the Bugle Corps at Fort Shafter to the Army's Schofield Barracks on Oahu; due to his skill as a talented boxer, he was dealt harsh "treatment" and hazing persecution when he stubbornly refused to fight for Company G's regimental boxing team, due to his past experience in the ring when he blinded a friend. He was chastised by the company commander Captain Dana "Dynamite" Holmes (Philip Ober) and other officers for going his "own way"
  • meanwhile, the bored and frustrated base commander's neglected, promiscuous wife Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) became engaged in a torrid and forbidden love affair with the good-guy career soldier First Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster)
  • the film's most famous scene was their nighttime erotic lovemaking scene - their embrace in the pounding Hawaiian surf was indelibly imprinted in cinematic history; during their secretive affair, after stripping down, the two went swimming, and then engaged in a horizontal embrace and wave-covering kiss in the Hawaiian beach surf as it broke over them - their bodies were tightly locked and intertwined in an embrace as they kissed each other and the white foaming waves poured over them; afterwards, she rose, pranced up the sand, and collapsed onto their blanket; Warden followed and stood above her, dropped to his knees, and found her lips in his, as she responded breathlessly - Karen: "I never knew it could be like this. Nobody ever kissed me the way you do." Warden: "Nobody?" Karen: "No, nobody."
The Infamous Hawaiian Beach Love-making Scene
  • meanwhile, Prewitt often frequented a private downtown Honolulu 'social club' known as the New Congress Club, stocked with hostesses (another term for prostitutes or call girls) - he became close and eventually fell in love the club's employee Alma Burke, or "Lorene" (wholesome actress Donna Reed in an 'against-type role), who with low self-esteem claimed she was only a streetwalker "two steps up from the pavement," but wished to become respectable
  • after a month of torment, abuse and repeated vicious beatings at the hands of sadistic, villainous, bullying, racist, cruel stockade captain of the guard - Staff Sergeant James "Fatso" Judson (Ernest Borgnine), Prew's good-natured Italian friend Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Academy Award-winning Frank Sinatra) was ultimately beaten to death (and died in Prewitt's arms) after being sentenced to six months in the stockade for shirking guard duty and getting drunk
  • just before dying, Maggio escaped from the stockade and warned Prewitt: "Fatso done it, Prew. He likes to whack me in the gut. He asked me if it hurts and I spit at him like always. Only yesterday it was bad. He hit me. He hit me. He hit me. Then I-I had to get out, Prew. I had to get out...They're gonna send me to the stockade, Prew? Watch out for Fatso. Watch out for Fatso"
  • the lone Prewitt, in tribute to his deceased friend in the evening, played a soulful rendition of "taps" (dubbed by Manny Klein) on the company's parade grounds; the camera found the somber, saddened faces of Warden and other soldiers in the barracks as they listened; tears streamed down Prewitt's cheeks
  • after Fatso showed no pity over his dead friend Maggio's death: "Oh, the wop?...A real tough monkey," Prewitt retaliated with the vengeful manslaughter (stabbing) murder of "Fatso" by knifing Judson to death in a back alley; he suffered injuries himself with a stomach wound, and then went AWOL by hiding at Lorene's apartment while she treated his wounds
  • when the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was announced on the early morning of December 7, 1941, Sergeant Warden took charge and rallied his enlisted men to prepare to fight - barking commands and orders to the non-coms: "I want every man to get his rifle and go to his bunk and stay there. And I mean stay there...You'll get your ears shot off if you go outside. You wanna be heroes? You'll get plenty of chances. There'll probably be Japs in your lap before night. Now get movin'. We're wastin' time"
  • in the film's most macho moment on the roof of the barracks, Warden took a charismatic, leadership role, held a heavy, repeating machine gun at his waist and fired at the planes streaming overhead during the Pearl Harbor attack - one of his targets crashed in a ball of flames
  • the obstinate Prewitt left his sympathetic hostess/hooker-girlfriend Alma (Lorene) and made an ill-advised attempt to return to the barracks in the dark; he was accidentally and tragically killed by sentinel guards who reacted nervously to him (thinking that he was a Japanese ground-based saboteur) when he failed to halt and identify himself on the golf course
Prewitt's Death

Returning to Barracks in the Dark

Killed by Sentinel Guards

Warden's Epitaph
  • Sgt. Warden reacted to the "good soldier's" demise with praise and a glorifying, lamenting epitaph, and explained why he didn't stop: "He was always a hardhead, sir. But he was a good soldier. He loved the Army more than any soldier I ever knew." Warden grieved over Prewitt's dead body with a eulogy - he regretfully cursed Prew's perpetual stubbornness and overt individuality that indirectly led to his death - when he couldn't "play it smart": "You just couldn't play it smart, could ya? All ya had to do was box. But no, not you, you hard-head! Funny thing is, there ain't gonna be any boxin' championships this year"
  • in the film's final scene, Karen and Alma leaned on the railing of a Matson ocean liner while departing wartime Hawaii for the mainland to find new lives - after lost and failed loves; on the deck as they forlornly looked back toward the receding island, Karen threw two flower leis into the water from the railing and then explained a legend: "If they float in toward shore you'll come back someday. If they float out to sea, you won't" - the flower leis floated away - they wouldn't be coming back
  • in the film's final lines, Alma spoke about Prewitt, her fiancee - she memorialized him and their aborted affair - and lied (or was deluded) about him when she described him as an idealized, tragic (and romantic) hero who was killed while defending Pearl Harbor - she mentioned his name: "He was named after a general - Robert E. Lee - Prewitt...Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Isn't that a silly old name?"

(l to r): Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster) & Pvt. Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt (Montgomery Clift)

Karen Holmes' (Deborah Kerr) First Kiss with Sgt. Warden (Burt Lancaster)

Death of Maggio (Frank Sinatra) in Prew's Arms

"Prew's" Taps for Maggio

Fugitive "Prew" with Hooker-Girlfriend Alma (Lorene) (Donna Reed)

Warden During Pearl Harbor Attack

Karen and Alma at Their Cruise-Ship's Railing, Leaving Hawaii

Alma: "Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Isn't that a silly old name?"

Legend of Two Flower Leis in Water


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