"Isn't that the film with that great wave scene on the beach?" asked my inquisitive friend. Yep, that's the one.
If you think the "wave" is just a fan phenomenon at sporting events, you've obviously never seen Fred Zinnemann's 1953 star-laden classic From Here to Eternity. Based on the James Jones book and possessing a snarling screenplay by Daniel Taradash, Eternity weaves together the lives of four people stationed at Hawaii's Schofield air base in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor. Some people say this is Montgomery Clift's best performance. Some people say it's Burt Lancaster's best role. Shoot, Frank Sinatra won a best-supporting-actor Oscar for his portrayal of the wisecracking, impishly urban Private Maggio. And let's not forget the women. The matronly Donna Reed here plays an outcast prostitute, Lorene, who frequents a place called the New Congress Club. And then there's Deborah Kerr as Karen, the scorchingly beautiful wife of the company commander whose penchant for leaving her alone has left her bitter and icy.
The story sets up right away with Clift's Private Prewitt showing up late to the base, where Maggio recognizes him as a famous boxer and legendary bugler. Since this regiment is famous for its boxing team, the troops are quite upset at Prewitt's refusal to box. He's hounded and hassled by everyone except Maggio and Lorene. While Prewitt endures unwanted attention, Deborah Kerr suffers from an opposite fate: her husband leaves her alone on the base, where she's hounded by Lancaster's Sergeant Warden.
He goes to see her on a rainy night with some bogus papers for her husband to sign. She lets him in. Banter ensues. "You're doing fine, sergeant," she tells him. "My husband is off somewhere, it's raining, and we're both drinking now." They end up in a deep kiss and embrace, which we watch through the rain-driven window as the camera zooms away.
Meeting at a park the next day, they start to argue, and she discloses that she has a bathing suit on underneath her clothes. "So do I," he counters. That brings us to the slow pan down onto the beach, where the turbulent waves pound the luscious figures of Lancaster and Kerr wrapped together in the surf. Oh! That wave!
From Here to Eternity also features stellar performances by Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, and Claude Akins, along with guitar legend Merle Travis playing the song "Reenlistment Blues" — and dialogue like this:
| "How many men have you been kissed by?"
"Now that would take some figuring."
"Don't you have a rough estimate?"
"That would take an adding machine."
Pretty racy stuff for 1953.
From Here to Eternity is at the Michigan Theater on Sunday and Tuesday, July 18 and 20.