Welcome to a weekly classic movies column here on Nerdist.com. Each week focuses on a different film available on streaming. Sit back, grab some snacks, and expand your film knowledge with old Hollywood cinema.
In Hollywood, From Here to Eternity was considered an impossible project. James Jones’ 800-page novel was generally thought by most studios to be unfilmable. The rough language and frank depiction of sex in the book was not something audiences were privy to seeing on the big screen. Cinema was still steps behind due to The Motion Picture Production Code, also known as The Hays Code.
The Hays Code, adopted by the studios in 1930, strictly outlined what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced in the United States. Films could not show any sort of mixed race relationships, “pointed profanity” (including the words ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’), illegal trafficking of drugs, or any “inference of sex perversion.” As stated in the outline of the code itself, Hollywood was to avoid all films “produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.”
(Source: Indiewire, from the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
The head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, paid an estimated $82,000 for the film rights to From Here to Eternity and was resolute on seeing a movie version made. Even with the Hays Code in effect, Cohn commissioned several drafts of the script before finally finding an adaptation of the novel that he liked. The studio then set to work securing help and approval from the U.S. Army to make the film. Director Fred Zinnemann came on board and then assembled one of the most famous and well-regarded casts for the movie in Hollywood history.
From Here to Eternity revolves around the lives of three soldiers (played by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra) stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Donna Reed and Deborah Kerr also star in the film as women with different romantic connections to these sailors. The performances were universally hailed by critics, and the movie received eight Academy Awards in 1953 including Best Picture and Best Director. Sinatra and Kerr received Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards for their work.
The most well-known scene in From Here to Eternity involves Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s characters (who are having an affair together) “making-out” on a beach. The kiss was considered so racy at the time that the Motion Picture Association of America banned any use of still photos of the scene in promotion of the movie. Great care was taken by the filmmakers and cast to make sure the love affair complied with the Hays Code. The kiss on the beach was limited to three seconds long as dictated by the code’s guidelines. More so than the kissing itself, censors objected to the waves crashing around the pair and deemed it as “suggestive” at the time.
Besides one of the most famous kissing scenes in cinema history, From Here to Eternity tackled the military from a realistic point of view. At the time, most novels and films were shying away from the seedier side of Army life. In particular, Montgomery Clift’s performance connected with audiences. The “working class soldier” trying to make his way the best he can, Clift lit up the screen with an emotional intensity unlike any other. Almost 30 years later, famed movie critic Pauline Kael proclaimed From Here to Eternity “the movie of its year, and not just because it swept the Academy Awards but because it brought new attitudes to the screen which touched a social nerve.”
Joan Crawford was originally set to play the role that went to Deborah Kerr. Rumor claims that Crawford backed out of the film after hearing she would have to take second billing after Burt Lancaster. Furthermore, Hollywood lore claims that Frank Sinatra nabbed the roll of Private Angelo Maggio by cutting off the head of Harry Cohn’s favorite race horse and leaving it in his bed. A decade and a half later, writer Mario Puzo would use this myth when writing The Godfather.
The famous kissing scene in the film has been spoofed several times, becoming one of the biggest tropes in TV and film. Airplane! mocked the kiss by showing how uncomfortable and messy a scene like that would be in reality. In the opening shot of Grease, Danny and Sandy are sharing a kiss on the beach in an homage to the movie. Sci-fi TV favorite Chuck ended the show with a final scene between Chuck and Sarah kissing on a beach, then fading to black.
Shot for less than $2 million dollars, From Here to Eternity went on to become the tenth highest grossing film of the 1950s.
From Here to Eternity is currently available to stream on Netflix Instant.
What’s your favorite movie kiss scene? What other classic movies would you like to see in a future column? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!