Although it looks pretty tame by today’s standards, when Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn hired director Fred Zinnemann to direct an adaptation of James Jones‘ controversial book From Here to Eternity, nobody thought it was a good idea. It went on to win Best Picture and seven other Academy Awards and, according to the Blu-ray itself, help usher in a new era in “frankness” in motion pictures.
Ironically, this was after the screenplay toned down the book’s sexual content quite a bit. But still, the idea of exploring abuse and adultery in the pre-WWII military at a Hawaiian base was pretty risky in 1953. Even Jones himself objected to the idea. But as an informative audio commentary with Fred’s son Tim Zinnemann and collaborator Alvin Sargent suggests, the way that the more adult themes of the book were still suggested by the movie was pretty impressive.
From Here to Eternity is essentially Montgomery Clift‘s story — he plays a “thirty-year man” trying to escape his reputation as a middle-class boxer who takes a demotion to transfer to Oahu — but is supported by a colorful cast of characters. Burt Lancaster might even be thought of as a co-lead as a First Sergeant who has an affair with his Captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr), while Oscar winners Donna Reed (playing way against type as a prostitute), and Frank Sinatra (as a boozy malcontent) threaten to steal the movie with their subplots.
In addition to the commentary track, this new Blu-ray of From Here to Eternity has a great picture-in-picture track featuring multimedia sources and interviews with TCM’s Robert Osborne, Lancaster biographer Kate Buford, actor and Clift friend Jack Larson, and film historians like Kim Morgan, Alan K. Rode, and Virginia Campbell. At first, I wondered why they didn’t bother just making a new documentary about the film, but watching the movie as these little visual treats pop up makes for wonderful viewing, especially since the movie’s original 4×3 image leaves plenty of black space on either side for picture-in-picture imagery. The transfer itself looks fantastic, and the new 5.1 soundtrack is natural sounding, while also bumping up the richness of the sound design.
Danny Kaye is one of the most beloved song-and-dance men of his time. A veteran of Broadway, he was known for his quick delivery and physical comedy skills, both of which he shows off in the Technicolor “backstage” musical comedy On the Riviera, out today on Blu-ray.
He plays a double role in the film, and the script gets the most mileage from putting Kaye in complicated situations where the audience knows more than the characters do about who is actually who at any given moment. It’s classic stuff for a farce, and even today, it works exceptionally well. It’s only when Kaye performs a number in the guise of one of these characters outside of that central conceit that the film begins to drag.
As american singer Jack Martin, Kaye gets to show off his chops, but some of the songs — especially the one he performs as a clown being pulled by strings — are more than a little corny and don’t hold up too well today. But as Martin’s doppleganger, the womanizing playboy aviator Henri Duran — or when Martin is pretending to be Duran — Kaye is really able to show off his impeccable timing. The two beautiful women that Martin and Duran are torn between, Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet, are absolutely radiant, and On the Riviera is filmed with considerable energy by Walter Lang.
The Blu-ray extra The Riviera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation compares the film with two previous movie versions of the same story: Folies Bergère de Paris with Maurice Chevalier and That Night in Rio with Don Ameche. The Jack of Clubs: Choreographer Jack Cole is a 22-minute profile of the film’s choreographer, and a 30-minute bio of Kaye called A Portrait of Danny Kaye goes into the star’s other interests, such as flying, gourmet cooking, and his charity UNICEF work.