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Literature / From Here to Eternity

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"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 that includes Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, and Ernest Borgnine, remains the most iconic of these productions. It won eight Academy Awards out of thirteen nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Zinnemann), Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Reed), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Daniel Taradash). The 1979 miniseries starred Natalie Wood, Steve Railsback, William Devane, and Kim Basinger.

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 Dumbass: Prewitt gets shot by sentries because he refuses to identify himself even when told to halt, in the aftermath of a bombing raid, almost going out of his way to look suspicious. In the book, he had no such issue; the guards stop him and try to arrest him because he has no identification, and he's killed while trying to flee.
  • 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 Nice Guy: Sort of with Alma. The film leaves out that she's only letting Prewitt stay at her house towards the end out of politeness, and is already planning to go back to Oregon without him. Further more, in the book, she won't marry him because she thinks he's not respectable. In the film, she says she can't handle being the wife of a soldier and is hinted to reconsider before his death.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the book, Prewitt was the older mentor figure to the new young soldier Maggio. In the film, they're old friends with Maggio being the older brother presence to Prew.
  • 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.
  • Age Lift: Maggio in the book was younger than the 23-year-old Prewitt. He's played by Frank Sinatra, who was nearly forty. They account for this by making the characters long time friends.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Maggio in the original passages of the book (restored in the 2010s) regularly prostituted himself to rich men. He tells Prewitt it's not as enjoyable as sex with a woman, but he doesn't seem to mind it. The heterosexual Prew by contrast says it's not for him. Ironically, the film version has Prewitt as the one played by an actor who was rumoured to be bisexual.
  • Asshole Victim: Right before Prewitt kills Judson in a knife fight, he calls him on his treatment of Maggio. The latter's response is But for Me, It Was Tuesday.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The Holmes household has both partners cheating, the husband not even trying to hide it from his wife any more.
  • Beach Kiss: The Trope Codifier. Warden and Karen share a passionate kiss on the sand as the waves wash over them.
  • Big Damn Kiss: The above-mentioned kiss on the beach even gets lampshaded by Karen, when she declares to Warden "nobody ever kissed me the way you do."
  • 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).
    • Sgt Galovitch is combined with Private First Class Bloom, with whom Prewitt gets into a fight. He does get into a fight with Galovitch in the book too, but under different circumstances.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Prew's time in the stockade after getting into a fight is completely removed from the film, as is him going AWOL twice; after killing Judson, he first returns to the company, and is warned by Warden that he faces time in the stockade, going AWOL again. The film just has him go AWOL until Pearl Harbor.
  • 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.
  • Demoted to Extra: Maylon Stark had a slightly larger role in the book, accompanying Prewitt to his first trip to the New Congress Club. He just has one scene in the film. This may have fuelled the rumors that George Reeves had his part cut down.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: Prewitt dies senselessly in the Pearl Harbour attacks, Warden and Karen don't end up together, and Maggio is dead (in the film version). Several more of the soldiers are likely to die now as well, since America officially enters the war. The film leaves one glimmer of hope in that Holmes is made to resign in disgrace, suggesting he and Karen will get divorced, and Alma might get her desired life as a 'proper' woman thanks to a ready-made story that makes her the sympathetic widow of a soldier.
  • 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.
  • Fat Bastard: Judson is a chubby, loathsome person, who's even nicknamed 'Fatso' by everyone.
  • 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.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Prewitt has a nickname 'Prew' based off his last name. Prue is commonly a girl's name, short for Prudence or Prunella.
  • Given Name Reveal: In a stressful night, Lorene snaps at Prew that her real name is actually Alma.
  • 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. She also calls her husband on the Double Standard that she was expected to just accept his open affairs, while he worries about the scandal a divorce might bring on him.
  • 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.
  • In Vino Veritas: Warden reveals his true self after he gets drunk - confessing why he doesn't want to be an officer to Prewitt.
  • Irony: Prewitt spends most of his screen time getting hazed by the non coms because he refuses to join the boxing team. With Pearl Harbour happening in the third act, Warden lampshades that there obviously won't be any boxing championships this year.
  • Lackof Empathy: In the film Holmes compares Prewitt quitting boxing after blinding his opponent to stopping war because one man got killed. He doesn't care that Prewitt could hurt anyone again, as long as he fights for him.
  • Last-Name Basis: Prewitt is never called by his first name. While that's standard in the military, he still freely calls Maggio by his first name. He has an Affectionate Nickname 'Prew' from his last name that even his girlfriend uses.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from the 1892 poem "Gentlemen Rankers" by Rudyard Kipling, about men from upper-class backgrounds serving as enlisted men, in which the speaker laments that he and others like him are "damned from here to Eternity."
  • Martial Pacifist: Prewitt, as far as boxing goes. He doesn't want to box in case he hurts someone else in the ring again.
  • 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. And of course the fact that he would be in huge trouble if he were found out sleeping with his superior's wife.
  • 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.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • Karen getting gonorrhea from her husband couldn't be so much as referenced with the Hays Code's restrictions. In this case, her infertility stems from a miscarriage that Holmes was too drunk to help her with. This still sells what an awful husband he's been to her, and actually makes the marriage more tragic; since it's implied Karen's hope was shattered when she lost the baby.
    • Alma having to be a hostess in a gentleman's club was done to avoid mentioning prostitution, but it still works to sell the class divide between her and the respectable people she wishes to be like.
    • Maggio getting Death by Adaptation thanks to Judson's abuse in the stockade arguably makes him a stronger and more tragic figure. In the book, the abuse is recounted in great detail, but it's only heard about second-hand and implied in the film - which makes it all the more effective.
    • The Hays Code forced Holmes to resign after his abuse of power, rather than being a Karma Houdini in the book. While the filmmakers hated making the change, it does leave the ending somewhat open for Karen and Warden to reunite in the future. Notably, the last scene doesn't specify whether Karen is still with her husband.
  • 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.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift:
    • Karen is introduced wearing a modest sweater and long skirt, and her scene with her husband has her in a modest dressing gown. In the scene where she and Warden get together, she's got a skimpy pair of shorts and an Intimate Open Shirt. From then on, she's in flattering sun dresses as the affair goes on. In the final scene, when she and Warden have not ended up together, she's back to the more modest outfits.
    • Alma being seen out of her Little Black Dress has a practical purpose (as we're seeing her off work) and a symbolic one (her romance with Prew progressing).
  • Sorry Ociffer: Spoofed. Warden pretends to chew Prewitt out for being drunk, while falling-down drunk himself.
  • Stage Names: Alma goes by the name Lorene while working as a prostitute (in the book) or hostess (in the film). Given her plan to become a respectable, middle-class housewife after she's saved enough money, using a fake name is in her best interests for when she wants to hide her past.
  • 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. A little better in the book, where he's detained by sentries and they try to arrest him because he has no ID, and he impulsively tries to flee (which has more justification, since in the book he spent several months getting tortured in the stockade himself).
  • 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 Are Better Than You Think You Are: Prew gives Warden this while extremely drunk. Warden can't believe Karen thinks he'd be a good officer, but Prew insists she's right and he would be.
  • 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