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From Here to Eternity (1953)
The boldest book of our time… honestly, fearlessly on the screen!
Filmmaker(s): Fred Zinnemann

In 1941 Hawaii, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second in command are falling in love.

From Here to Eternity (1953)

The Rule of Threes

My own estimation is that this is a pretty poor movie cinematically, with the exeption of the then-shocking juicy exuberance of the beach scene.

But it is crackling good storytelling and that overcomes the wooden direction and uninspired acting.

I’m a believer in the power of structure in stories. Here we have the rule of three in two dimensions.

We have the three stories that unfold in the first part:

—The story of base strumpet Karen Holmes and her illicit affair with her husband’s inferior

—The story of a retired fighter and bugler who would rather fight the system, and who also falls for a whore, though the movie waters her down to a “dance hostess”

—The story of the Italian impulsive who gets trapped in the presses and is killed.

These three stories intermingle: the sergeant plays a key role in two, the fighter in two. In both cases their role in one story contradicts or opposes their role in the other: the reluctant fighter in one thread is passive, in the other is a killer. The sergeant in one thread is the colonel’s patsy, in the other he cuckolds the colonel.

There are two women, both promiscuous, but for opposite reasons: one because she cannot have a proper family and the other because she desires one.

Wheels turn and we follow each one. That’s the first part. All during this, we know that an external force will break the machine. It comes and is treated as a story segment in its own right. But it is just heavy punctuation. Both affairs have ended. The Italian has been killed and his killer killed and his killer in turn killed. End of act two.

What makes this novel in my mind is the very odd and short act three. The two endearing sluts are on a boat together, and Alma herself tells a story. I believe in a law of film stories that I find in hundreds of films: the story IN the film — even a simple, short story as we have here — is precisely as abstracted from the story OF the film as the film is from the reality of the viewers in the audience. That’s what we have here, and it really cements the memory of what we have seen before.

But don’t see this for any cinematic values: the direction, camerawork (except for that beach scene), acting and production design is ordinary, even tepid. Its the fabric of the story here, and it pulls us like a tractor.

Posted in 2003

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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