Watched one of the most romantic films of all time, recommended by TCM Essentials, on valentine’s day, only to find it neither romantic nor essential. In fact, I didn’t like it much at all, and am dismayed that Zinnemann won a directing oscar over Wilder, Wyler and Stevens. Adapted from an extremely popular, gritty and pessimistic James Jones novel (I found his Thin Red Line tedious and overlong), the adaptation is from a weird time in film history when movies wanted to be gritty and pessimistic themselves but weren’t allowed to by the censors. So the message is muddled, beloved characters from the book brought to life only to behave against their nature, which may explain why I got so little out of it.
But it doesn’t explain the lack of romance, and here I’m not blaming the film but its reputation. One shot of Lancaster and Kerr clinching on the beach as a wave hits has become shorthand for eroticism in pre-60’s cinema – but it’s a shot, not a scene. Immediately after that shot, they stand up and bicker. Kerr hates her husband, is cheating with Burt, who leaves her because he’s “married to the army,” while a drunken Monty Clift falls for prostitute Donna Reed (that’s from the book – in the film she’s a chaste hostess paid to smile politely, talking and dancing with soldiers, a career I’m not convinced has ever existed) then dies stupidly, so after the harbor is bombed Reed sails home alone and Kerr stays with her now-disgraced husband whom she still hates. Some great romance.
The dialogue was generally unmemorable, the cinematography nothing special and the editing sometimes distracting. The actors all seemed decent, not award-winningly spectacular. Clift was more energized than his surroundings, an early Method proponent who’d get drunk to play drunk (then again, I hear he also got drunk to play sober). And I wouldn’t be such a valentine humbug, attacking every facet of the movie, if Katy had at least enjoyed it, which she did not.
Lancaster: a few years before Sweet Smell of Success
First movie I’ve seen with Monty Clift: he did Hitchcock’s I Confess the same year.
Deborah Kerr: six years after Black Narcissus and looking quite different, almost anonymous without the nun’s habit
Donna Reed: the year after Scandal Sheet
Earliest movie I’ve seen with Frank Sinatra, who was wiry and good in this
Philip Ober acted with Burt again in Elmer Gantry
early film for Ernest Borgnine, who played another bad guy in Johnny Guitar the next year.
Remade as a massive miniseries in 1979 with Kim Basinger as Reed, Natalie Wood as Kerr, William “Who?” Devane as Lancaster, and Peter Boyle (the monster in Young Frankenstein) in the Borgnine role.