THE DVD SHELF: The Delightful "I Married a Witch," the Epic "From Here to Eternity" and the Charming "Before Midnight"

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20 Oct 2013

March is his reliable self here, midway between his two Oscars. (He was the first actor to win two Oscars and two Tonys. Helen Hayes also did it, with one of her Oscars as Supporting Actress, although it took her 40 years, compared to March's 26.) The man's range was remarkable. He went from the doomed Dr. Jekyll (and his alter-ego, Hyde) and the noble Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables" to the washed-up Norman Maine walking to his death in the ocean (in the first "A Star Is Born") and the satirically perfect Wally Cook in "Nothing Sacred." All this within seven years. He makes a perfect straight man in "I Married a Witch," which was soon followed by his portrayal of returning sergeant (and ex-banker) Al Stephenson in "The Best Years of Our Lives." And that's to say nothing of his stage career, which was capped by James Tyrone in the original Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night.


The big, big movie of the year, 60 years ago, was Fred Zinnemann's "From Here to Eternity" [Columbia/Sony]. Based upon the best-selling novel by James Jones, it tells of a group of soldiers stationed at Schofield Barracks on Oahu just before and during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Columbia assembled a high-voltage cast: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra. All five were nominated for Oscars, with Reed and Sinatra winning in the Best Featured category.

Oscar Night was a bonanza: The film garnered eight awards, making it the first to match the record set in 1939 by "Gone with the Wind." "From Here to Eternity" took home Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Sound, plus the two performance awards. It was also a box-office winner, one of the ten highest-grossing films of the decade.

Columbia has given us a meticulous new restoration, which brings out the black-and-white camerawork. (The film includes one of Hollywood's iconic scenes — Burt and Deborah wrapped in each other's arms, as the surf washes over them — and it truly looks stunning here, although one wonders just how Zinnemann, his cameraman and his actors managed to get the ocean to cooperate.)

The conflicted Clift does wonderfully well as the newly-transferred soldier who refuses to get into the boxing ring. (That's the old plotline about a fighter who refuses to get into the ring, having in the past seriously injured an opponent.) Zinnemann insisted on Clift against studio objections; the actor had starred in the director's first Hollywood success, the sensitive 1948 post-War drama "The Search." The surprise of the movie was Sinatra, who — at a low ebb in his career — pleaded for the job. It is said that Frankie, who had earned as much as $130,000 for his earlier appearances, took the role for a mere $8,000. The move paid off; Sinatra is extraordinarily good as the stubborn-but-loyal Italian-American private Angelo Maggio. He gets to die onscreen, and his performance combined with his Oscar instantly launched him back into first-rank celebrity.


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