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Literature / From Here to Eternity

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Soldiers enjoying some typical R&R During the War.

"Well, what am I? I'm a private no-class dogface. The way most civilians look at that, that's two steps up from nothin'."
Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt

From Here to Eternity is a 1952 novel by James Jones, based on his experiences serving in World War II. It was adapted into a feature film in 1953, a miniseries in 1979, a TV series in 1980, and a short-lived stage musical in 2013. The film version, directed by Fred Zinnemann and with an All-Star Cast including Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Deborah Kerr and Ernest Borgnine, remains the most iconic of these productions. It won eight Academy Awards in its year, including Best Picture.

The 1953 film is also famous for a certain scene involving Lancaster, Kerr, and a beach. It's an iconic (and oft-parodied) bit, and new viewers may be surprised to discover that it's only three seconds long.

In 1941, a few short months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Private Robert E. Lee "Prew" Prewitt is transferred to the nearby Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. His CO at Company G, Captain Holmes, learns that Prewitt was a Boxer and tries to recruit him for the Unit’s Boxing Club. When Prewitt refuses, Holmes decides to make the new recruit’s life a living hell.


Other characters in the story include Prewitt’s buddy and only supporter on base, Angelo Maggio; Holmes’s wife Karen and her lover, Sgt. Warden; Prewitt's girlfriend, "nightclub hostess" Alma; and Staff Sgt. Fatso Judson, the brutish stockade guard who becomes Magglio's tormentor.

See also The Thin Red Line, which features similar characters based on James Jones' real life experiences, including Private Witt, appropriately enough for a subsequent novel.


The novel and film contain examples of:

  • Adaptational Job Change: In the novel, Lorene was a prostitute at a brothel, but in the film, she is a hostess at a private social club.
  • Adaptational Karma: In the book, Holmes and Judson both get away with their cruelty even after Maggio's death. The US Army insisted Holmes be removed from his post in the film.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the novel, several of the enlisted men fraternize with homosexuals, and one soldier commits suicide as a result, but homosexuality is not mentioned or directly explored in the film. The change was made to satisfy the Code Office.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Judson's cruel treatment in the stockade is merely him being part of a corrupt system. The US Army insisted the film stress that it was an isolated incident.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The Holmes household has both partners cheating, the husband not even trying to hide it from his wife any more.
  • Blatant Lies: Alma tells Karen that Prewitt died a hero while piloting a plane when he really just got shot for ignoring the commands of a patrol, though it's unclear if she knew the truth of if she was on the receiving end of Blatant Lies to make her feel better. Karen recognizes his name but wisely says nothing.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Justified by the period's special effects, but the soldier who gets shot by the Japanese attack just rolls over and dies without any visible injuries.
  • Bowdlerization:
    • Due to the Hays Code, the brothel of the novel becomes a Gentleman's Club and the whores become 'hostesses'.
    • Maggio's death in the book was entirely the fault of Judson's abuse in the stockade. The film implies that he was mainly finished off by falling from a truck after he escaped.
    • The book itself was censored before publication to remove a passage revealing that Maggio prostitutes himself to a wealthy man, as well as a number of Precision F Strikes. It wasn't until 2011 that the passages were restored to the book.
  • Camp Follower: The 'hostesses' (who were whores in the book) regularly service the soldiers.
  • Casting Gag: Prewitt complains to another soldier that he can't understand Warden. The soldier in question is played by Jack Warden.
  • Composite Character: Maggio is combined with two other prisoner characters from the novel (one of whom is killed by Judson in the novel).
  • Death by Adaptation: Maggio, who survives and is discharged in the novel, dies in the film to add drama and make Maggio a stronger, more tragic figure.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Karen breaks things off with Warden when he won't become an officer.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Maggio dies in Prewitt's arms.
  • Dreadful Musician: At one point some guy is playing a bugle... badly. Prewitt finally gets so disgusted he takes it away and plays it properly.
  • Drinking on Duty: Maggio deserts his guard post clearly drunk out of his mind.
  • Due to the Dead: Prewitt plays a lament for Maggio on the bugle after his death.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Staff Sgt. James R. "Fatso" Judson.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Appears to be the case with Karen - as the sexy captain's wife. But she's actually deeply depressed and hates her life.
  • Evil Is Petty: Prewitt is cruelly hazed all because he won't compete in a boxing tournament, even after he freely gives the reason why he won't (that he accidentally blinded a friend while fighting). Yes; most of the movie's conflict comes from Prewitt saying no to a tournament.
  • A Father to His Men: Despite being a sergeant, Warden is actually this. Ironically he doesn't want to become an officer as he fears he'll turn out like Holmes.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Captain Holmes cheats on his wife, which makes it all right for her to cheat on him. His behaviour previously resulted in her losing a child and nearly dying herself. In Karen's defense, she admittedly suggests a divorce so she can be with the new guy.
  • Good-Looking Privates: It's Burt Lancaster, after all. Montgomery Clift was also known for his good looks at the time.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Prewitt and Maggio. It's clear that they're best friends and utterly devoted to each other.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The hairstyles that Lorene and Karen sport are more in line with the early 1950s than the film's 1941 setting.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Lorene (real name Alma) in all but name in the film. Fully so in the book.
  • Hypocrite: When Karen demands a divorce, her husband angrily asks if she's met someone else - despite blatantly sleeping with other women throughout their marriage.
  • Idiot Ball: The ordinarily shrewd Prewitt gets killed after he tries to sneak back to his company after the attack on Pearl Harbor — with a bleeding side injury, no less — and fails to halt after they order him to several times, leading to them being forced to shoot him. The soldier who examines him with Warden afterwards even notes that he could have just halted, given Prewitt's earlier justification to Alma that they wouldn't have punished them since they needed all the help they could get. Warden gives a rather half-assed justification for Prewitt just being stubborn, "but a good soldier," but even that sounds hollow.
  • Maybe Ever After: In the final scene, Karen says that the lays floating towards the island mean they'll return one day. Notably she's not seen with her husband on the ship and it's not shown what direction the flowers go.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Sgt. Warden is somewhat upset to find that Karen has had numerous other lovers, although it's strongly hinted that he'd just prefer not to be a 'notch on the bedpost' - as he's been harboring a crush on her for a while.
  • N-Word Privileges: "Only my friends call me 'wop'!"
  • Offscreen Villainy: In the novel, Judson's systematic abuse of Maggio and other prisoners, including Prewitt himself at one point, is portrayed in detail. However, in the film, Maggio's abuse happens offscreen, and is told only verbally to Prewitt, who remains free. The Army required that the abuse of Maggio not be shown, and that Judson's behavior towards Maggio be portrayed as "a sadistic anomaly, and not as the result of Army policy, as depicted in the book". The filmmakers agreed, seeing these changes as improvements.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Judson is racist, sexist, abusive, and can't play the piano well.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: Justified in that America wasn't under attack yet.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Prewitt's story: he's hazed mercilessly for a boxing tournament that ends up getting cancelled after the attack at Pearl Harbor. His heroic leaving of his lover in order to rejoin the company and defend the nation is quickly made worthless by him almost immediately getting shot by a patrol after failing to halt.
  • Shirtless Scene: Warden gets one on the beach with Karen, Prewitt gets one while he's digging a hole and Maggio gets one while he's getting dressed.
  • Sorry Ociffer: Spoofed. Warden pretends to chew Prewitt out for being drunk, while falling-down drunk himself.
  • Suddenly Sober: For two guys who couldn't walk straight several minutes before, Warden and Prewitt are remarkably coordinated when Maggio drops in.
  • Taps: In the film version, Prewitt (a bugle player) plays this as a lament to Maggio.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Prewitt. When you are AWOL and a murder you committed is currently being investigated, you don't just try to enter an American base with civilian clothes on, especially during an attack. Alma herself warns Prewitt it will be an idiotic decision. Warden also says that it was a stupid decision, but even then this is an understatement.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Prewitt. The troubled part includes him being an orphan, a screw-up until he joined the army and deeply ashamed of blinding an opponent in the boxing ring. Lorene finds him cute though.
  • War Was Beginning: Some shots are carefully framed to show calendars, to let the audience know that the Japanese are going to pay a visit.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: The company is blocked off from artillery because the guard says that he can't let them in without orders... As Pearl Harbor is happening fifty feet away. Averted in that they get in anyway.

Alternative Title(s): From Here To Eternity


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