From Here to Eternity

Wowza!

From Here to Eternity (1953)

From Here to Eternity (1953)

There’s a reason From Here to Eternity won eight Academy Awards and was nominated for five others. The stellar cast is in large part responsible as two leading men and several supporting characters of almost leading caliber delivery hard-hitting performances.

The story follows a Hawaiian military base in the months preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s official entrance into World War II. Because the country is not at war for most of the picture, however, we get to see what life was like for the “30-year” men who enlisted with the aim of making a career out of military life. Yes, they do drills, but they also spend their evenings in town getting drunk and meeting women.

But the story is as unsavory as that. It commences with the arrival of Pvt. Robert E. Lee Pruitt (Montgomery Clift) on base, having transferred from his post as a bugler because he was passed over for the first bugle position. He was directed to his receiving base because Capt. Holmes (Philip Ober) once saw him box and aspires to have his division win the inter-regiment boxing league. Pruitt refuses to box, however, because the last time he did he blinded a man.

Pruitt’s story surrounds the intimidation and mistreatment he receives at the hands of the other boxing men in the ranks who try to pressure him to enter the ring. Pruitt makes a great pal, however, in Pvt. Maggio (Frank Sinatra) –a high-spirited soldier who introduces Pruitt to the benefits of a social club in town. It is at said club that Pruitt meets Lorene (Donna Reed), with whom he quickly falls in love. The two maintain a romance that is stifled by Lorene’s confession she does not want to marry an army man.

Maggio, meanwhile, makes a fast enemy in “Fatso”, the sergeant of the stockades (Ernest Borgnine). At a bar in town, Maggio argues with him over the sergeant’s piano playing, the musician calls Maggio a “wop” and the disagreement continues for months. When Maggio is given a last-minute assignment to cover the watch, he shirks his duty and goes on with his original plans to get drunk. His court martial lands him in the stockade where Fatso brutally beats him for weeks. Maggio escapes from the stockade and finds his way to Pruitt only to die moments later.

But those two dramatic tales are not alone in From Here to Eternity. Burt Lancaster as Sgt. Warden presents the story’s romantic plot. Warden is assistant to Cpt. Holmes and catches the eye of the philandering officer’s wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). Although Karen has been known to get around herself, she confesses to never having known a feeling like that she experiences with Warden. By the end of the movie, the couple hopes to get married, but if Karen is to divorce Holmes, Warden will have to secure an officer’s position in order to transfer out of the regiment. The enlisted man is resistant to the idea, however, and when the war starts, everything will change.

No matter which character you become invested in, by the end of From Here to Eternity you will find yourself heartbroken. For a war movie set during (relative) peace time, the tragedies endured by the various characters are significant. Although the villains –Cpt. Homes and Fatso– get what they deserve, the sweetest character –Maggio– suffers the worst fate. Sinatra won the Best Supporting Actor award and deservedly so. He had pushed to get the role for which producers had passed over Eli Wallach because of his salary demands. Filmmakers thought Sinatra’s skinny build portrayed the helpless image the character called for, and so he got the part. Joan Crawford endeavored to take the role of Karen but also had demands that put her off for the filmmakers. The role was a different one for Kerr who typically played sophisticated roles. Although she brings an upper class air to the part, the character nevertheless has a semi-sordid past.

The direction of the film, by Fred Zinnemann is also superb with beautifully composed deep-focus shots and some of the most memorable scenes in movie history –see Lancaster and Kerr cavorting among the waves. From Here to Eternity does nothing to show the Army in a positive light, yet the Army itself approved its screening in camps. The Navy, meanwhile, banned it for its derogatory portrayal of a sister service.

Source: TCM.com

Judgment at Nuremberg

Wowza!

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

A reporter character in Judgement at Nuremberg says he could not give away a story about the Nuremberg Nazi war crime trials in 1948 because America had moved on from the war and was no longer interested. If Americans were not interested in the trials then, they certainly had no choice but to be in 1961 with the release of this overwhelming movie.

What makes Judgment at Nuremberg so important? Take your pick: the award recognition, the acting or the story. Despite its more than three-hour run time, I was hooked and invested in the story from the start.

The plot follows one specific trial held in Nuremberg, Germany, that sought to determine the guilt of four court judges during the Third Reich and whether they could be held accountable for the atrocities carried out as a result of their sentences. Spencer Tracy plays “backwoods” American Judge Haywood picked to sit on the tribunal with two others and pass judgement on the men. He is put up in a mansion formerly occupied by Marlene Dietrich‘s Madam Bertholt, whose husband was executed at an earlier war crimes trial.

In court, where most of the drama takes place, Hans Rolfe, played by Maximilian Schell, defend the judges on the grounds that they merely delivered on the laws of the country they loved regardless of whether they were morally sound.  Richard Widmark‘s Col. Tad Lawson meanwhile prosecutes the men on the assertion that they perverted justice in enacting the will of Adolph Hitler and subjecting those who came before them to death and sexual sterilization.

Three of the four judges on trial are immediately unlikable, while a fourth, Burt Lancaster‘s Ernst Janning, refuses to recognize the authority of the tribunal and becomes the subject of the majority of testimony we witness through the camera’s lens. We notice early on that Judge Haywood is sympathetic toward Janning and will require undeniable proof that he should be held accountable for the sentences he delivered. The chips seem to be stacked in this man’s favor until a last-minute statement declares his guilt.

The drama in Judgment at Nuremberg is electric. From the moment Max Schell starts to speak in German –hair and spittle flying– one cannot help but be hooked. Director Stanley Kramer used a unique device in allowing audiences to hear the majority of the dialogue in English. The court uses interpreters who translate through headsets worn by whomever in the room does not understand the language being spoken at a given time. During one of Schell’s wild opening lines, his dialogue switches into English as we view him from the interpreter’s booth. Nevertheless, the characters maintain the pretense of relying on the headsets whenever a person of the opposite language is speaking.

Although a number of American actors play German roles, they all do so amazingly. Lancaster is stoic but sympathetic while Judy Garland is a tormented soul on the stand. Montgomery Clift, meanwhile, is spellbinding to watch as the prosecution has him explain the trial leading up to his sexual sterilization and the defense forces a near admission of mental insufficiency. Dietrich is her usual brilliant, German self and has grown even more beautiful with age. Try as she might, she cannot turn off the sex appeal.

Judgment at Nurembergis an incredibly emotional story to watch. Toward the end, footage of the English emancipation of one of the concentration camps is brutally painful and it becomes impossible to not side with the bully of a prosecutor in Widmark. The movie otherwise does an objective job of presenting the two sides of the argument, which is no easy feat.

The Misfits

Wowza!

The Misfits (1961)

     I have never been sold on Marilyn Monroe as anything but a ditz with an outrageous body. In the handful of pictures I have seen, she always comes off as ignorant and naive so that I feel no option but to assume this is how she was off-screen. In her last work, however, Monroe gives us an entirely different person to consider and one that had me a bit baffled.

     The Misfits was a movie outwardly surrounded by tragedy. Not only was it Monroe’s last completed film before her mysterious death, but it also marked the last appearance of Clark Gable, who suffered a heart attack the day after shooting wrapped and died 11 days later. Ironically, he was quoted as saying on the last day on set, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished. She [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack.” Some did blame Monroe for that heart attack because her unreliability on the set –showing up late, etc.– left the older actor in the desert heat for extended periods of time and even prompted him to do his own stunts to fight the boredom. Besides those two, the movie also co-starred Montgomery Clift, who after being somewhat disfigured in a car accident during the filming of Raintree County had become an alcoholic and would make only two more films before dying in 1966 of heart disease. A doctor was on set at all times for both Monroe and Clift.

     Directed by John Huston, The Misfits is a tale of the random adventures of five individuals thrown together somewhat by chance. Monroe’s Roslyn is in Reno to secure a divorce from a man who was emotionally absent from their relationship. She rooms with Isabelle (Thelma Ritter), a middle-aged divorcee who has made a life of standing witness at divorce trials. The film commences with mechanic Guido, expertly played by Eli Wallach, examining Roslyn’s beat up but brand new car –a divorce gift from her husband. When he spots the attractive Roslyn he offers to drive the two to the courthouse. The three later reunite in a bar where Guido is drinking with friend and cowboy Gay (Gable). The four hit it off and the men escort the women out of town to Guido’s incomplete house in the desert.

     Despite Guido’s clear romantic interest in Roslyn from the get-go, Gay is the one who manages to coax the young woman into a relationship of sorts despite their considerable age difference. The quartet later picks up bull rider Perce (Clift) to help them go “mustanging” and this man also takes a shine to Roslyn. We learn quickly that Roslyn is made hysterical by the idea of harm to defenseless creatures. She objects to Gay’s desire to shoot rabbits nibbling at their vegetable garden, is horrified that the capture of mustangs is so they may be sold to a dog-food manufacturer, and takes to tears when she sees Perce thrown from a bronco and then a bull. The movie closes on Gay and Roslyn driving away from the remote mountain scene where the gang had wrangled six horses with us uncertain whether the two will reconcile their differences and the gal will stay on in Nevada.

     The Misfits was the first instance when I witnessed Monroe in a character that was realistic to the physicality she brought to the screen. The men in this movie treat her exactly as she is: a voluptuous, young, beautiful creature distracting enough to lead to traffic accidents. In the other pictures I have seen, Monroe’s extreme body shape always seemed secondary to whatever character she took on as if she was a woman who just happened to have enormous breasts. Her emotional acting was also astonishing. Although Roslyn still has a young personality marked by naiveté, she is also deeply troubled. Much of Monroe’s acting here is conveyed only through her face. She also offers some surprising outbursts of anger at her on-screen contemporaries. The Misfits was written by Arthur Miller for Monroe, his wife at the time, which I think is why it worked out so well for her performance-wise.

     Gable, too, gives a strikingly different performance than those to which audiences were accustomed from his work at the peak of his career. He gives a particularly good show when drunk and screaming atop a car for his adult children who have fled the premises. Some contend he was mirroring the Method acting styles of his costars. The man also was surely at home in the part of a cowboy given he enjoyed farm life off-screen as well.

  • The Misfits is set for 1:30 a.m. ET Sept. 12 and 2:15 a.m. Nov. 19 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

Raintree County

Ring a Ding Ding

Raintree County (1957)

     Raintree County marked a significant point in the career of Montgomery Clift, although not a positive one. It was a box office hit because people flocked to the theater to compare the before and after images of the face of a man who had been disfigured in a car accident during filming. Myself, I could not identify a change in his facade, but I did think he looked different throughout from the Clift to which I am accustomed. He had a rather stiff, stoic face that curves into a smile only once, I think, during the story.

     The accident happened when Clift left a party at the home of his costar Elizabeth Taylor. He hit a phone poll, and thanks to Kevin McCarthy who witnessed the collision, was quickly attended by Taylor, Rock Hudson and others. Taylor allegedly removed two loose front teeth from his mouth that were threatening to choke the actor. Filming was halted while Clift recovered for nine weeks from a broken jaw and nose and plastic surgery to repair part of his face. The incident also led to a dependence on pills and alcohol, which would plague the rest of his career.

     Raintree County can easily be compared to Gone with the Wind because it takes place both before and during the Civil War, involves love –some of it unrequited– and a particular emphasis on place, nevermind that it is more than three hours long. Raintree County, Indiana, is where most of our characters grew up. We come in on Clift’s John Shawnessy and Eva Marie Saint as Nell, his sort-of girlfriend. They are nearing the end of high school, but the entrance of Taylor’s Susanna Drake sends their lives in different directions than they expected. Susanna, whose family owns a house in Raintree County but is from the south, quickly falls in love with John and he with her. They make love in a lakeside forest and Susanna next says she is “going to have a baby”. Prior to this point, John was not really through with Nell despite her hurt feelings, but the forthcoming bundle of joy forces him to marry the southern belle.

     The couple moves to the south and John starts to learn unsavory things about his bride: she is racist, pro-slavery and is not really pregnant. After making some inquiries of Susanna’s relatives, our protagonist learns that her mother went insane, her father visited Cuba for a long time where Susanna was born and from where he returned with a non-slave black woman, and there was some confusion after a fire killed those three about which woman was in bed with the father. Susanna herself will convey the whole story of the fire closer to the end of the movie.

     John is not really digging the south, so the pair return to Raintree County where Susanna does eventually have a baby, Jim. The woman’s mental health clearly starts deteriorating around the time of the pregnancy, and her struggles will shape the remainder of the film that involves John going to war merely to hunt down the son his wife has kidnapped and taken southward.

     Taylor was nominated for an Oscar for this role, which she greatly deserved. Besides playing a perfect southern belle with an almost natural-seeming accent, she does wonderfully with the insanity part of her character. I felt Clift’s performance was quite stiff, possibly because of the accident’s effects on his face. For both actors I could criticize some of the emotion. Any time they declared their love for each other, I was surprised because their performances had been rather unconvincing up to that point. Only Saint really wore her emotions on her sleeve so we could know how much she longed for her lost love.

     Raintree County  is a long movie to sit through, but it has a wonderful and mysterious/scandalous story highlighted by beautiful scenery and costumes, which were designed by Walter Plunkett who earned an Academy Award nomination for them.

  • Raintree County is set for 6 a.m. Aug. 20 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne, TCM.com

%d bloggers like this: