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Borgnine's big break
by Asa Butcher
2007-01-25 09:39:49
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From Here to Eternity
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1953

Long before BASEketball , Airwolf, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen, Ernest Borgnine made his big screen debut in From Here to Eternity, the tenth highest grossing film of the 1950s, 1954 Best Picture winner and is best-known for the beach love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. Ernest also has the honour of beating the life out of Rat Pack crooner Frank Sinatra, which is a claim very few can boast.

The first aspect of the film that strikes you, other than Ernest's brutal performance, is the fact it was filmed in black and white rather than colour, which had been popular in big budget productions since 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. According to trivia about the film, director Fred Zinnemann believed that colour would have made it look trivial, with which I agree.

The 'it' in question is the plot, which is set in Hawaii 1941 and the time leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor - it is possible that if colour had been employed then our attention would have been distracted by Sinatra's incredible (even in monochrome) Aloha shirts. Anyway, the story follows the arrival if Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift), a boxer and bugle player, who has just been transferred to the base to help the boxing team.

However, when he announces he doesn't box anymore his superiors make his life a nightmare, but he finds solace in the arms of the social club employee Lorene (Donna Reed). Meanwhile, Sergeant Warden (Lancaster) begins an intense affair with Karen Holmes (Kerr), wife of the platoon's captain, and Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Sinatra) continually aggravates the sadistic stockade Sergeant 'Fatso' Judson (Borgnine) with his behaviour.

The four storylines intertwine seamlessly and all relentlessly drive towards the explosive conclusion of Japanese aircraft appearing on radar on December 9th, which is recreated superbly, especially when compared to the overblown special effects of Peal Harbor. The foreknowledge of the attack brings an extra tension to the film, as you are unsure how it will influence each of the plots in action.

I must put aside everything else about From Here to Eternity because the characterisation really made an impression on me. Montgomery Clift's intensity is frightening at times and you really want him just to relax, but you know he is doomed from the start, almost like in reality when he died aged only 46. Once you have watched his performance, you will wonder why he was only nominated for Best Actor, although you'll say the same about Burt Lancaster, who was also nominated in that category.

Lancaster was said to have been nervous about his first serious role and intimidated by Clift's skill, but this certainly does not come across on screen. His character Sergeant Warden is a man we would all love to meet, although husbands should keep a close eye on their wives, with his wit, wisdom and presence. There are certainly no nerves in what has become an iconic image of the cinema: the beach scene.

The scene was a last minute idea and then Lancaster and Kerr were supposed to stand and kiss - thankfully, they took a roll in the waves and a million fantasies were born. Some of these fantasies include Kerr, one of the best British actresses of the 1950s, and there are scenes that just blow you away, especially when she describes the night she gave birth to a dead child. Again, she is another who suffered from the Academy's failure to give her an award, with seven nomination - five in the '50s - and no wins, plus she thankfully hasn't died after receiving an Honoury Award in 1994.

From Here to Eternity did manage to win eight Oscars including one for Daniel Taradash, who transformed James Jones' novel into a screenplay, an award for director Fred Zinnemann and Editor William A. Lyon. Donna Reed received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress due to her passionate and intense scenes opposite Clift and Sinatra, deservedly, also won his only Oscar and it wasn't for his fashionable Hawaiian shirts.

In 1952 Sinatra had crashed. After haemorrhaging his vocal chords he had fewer hits, a movie called Double Dynamite was a failure and a UK tour received a cold response, eventually both Columbia and MCA dropped him in 1952. Sinatra desperately wanted and needed the role, even offering to do it free of charge and his then-wife Ava Gardner persuaded Columbia head Harry Cohn to take him. It was the turning point in Sinatra's career and even meant that one Ernest Borgnine would be able to beat the life out of him.

Strangely enough, according to one other piece of trivia, when Jones' novel was release Borgnine would tell his friends that should they ever make a film from the book he'd play a part. It is now 54-years later and the man is still going strong.

Happy Birthday, Ernest!

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Simon2007-01-24 09:56:46
Happy Birthday Ernie!

I loved him in Airwolf as Dominic Santini.

I'll have to go and check if the series is on DVD now!

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