From Here to Eternity (1953)

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This is what everyone did in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor.

There’s something about war that goes well with Oscars, like peanut butter and jelly.  If you’ve been around on this blog awhile, you may recall that I devoted an entire month to war-related films and still had plenty left over for other posts – like, for example, this one.  Perhaps it’s because there is some inherent drama in war:  the personal story meets the epic, the constant threat of death offers a natural level of drastic stakes.  I’ve seen a lot of war movies now, and they’re all a little bit different, but they’re also all a little bit the same.

FHtE opens on the arrival of a new soldier to an army unit in Hawaii.  He’s both a bugler and a boxer, and there must be some kind of joke there, but now he doesn’t really do either.  His commanding officer, a douchebag who doesn’t do much and takes all the credit, brought him there because he wanted to win a boxing championship.  Since he refuses to box, most of his peers and superiors make his life difficult with elaborate hazing rituals and punishments, because the time-honored method of getting someone to become a team player is to treat them like crap until they cave and do whatever you want.

Meanwhile, the non-commissioned officer (by the way, if I sound like I’m throwing off vaguely-accurate military terms with confidence, it’s only because I’ve decided to take a stab at it and hope for the best) who runs the show decides the best thing for his career is to indulge in Captain Douchebag’s wife.  If you’ve maybe played trivia and seen a still image from this movie in a picture round, say, it might have been this beach make-out scene.

Also, Frank Sinatra is in this movie.  Because why not?

I like the subtlety overall of the film, set in Hawaii in the weeks or months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Except for one scene, where someone is casually leaning near a wall calendar with the date brightly indicated in red:  December 6!!!  (exclamation points possibly added).

I just read a movie review for Moonlight (even my non-movie-watching ass was intrigued), in which the reviewer likened an actor’s performance to the experience of watching Montgomery Clift act for the first time.  I mean, I guess it was fine and all, once I figured out which one he was, but I didn’t notice anything unusually brilliant.  This is probably why I’m only a blogger and not a professional critic.  Most of my reviews would be one sentence:  Yeah, that was cool, I guess.

 

Theme:  War & Doomed Romance

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Nobody lies about being lonely

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Casablanca (1943)

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Casablanca is one of those films that I assume everybody except me has seen, because everybody seems to be able to quote it at will and everybody, even seventy-five years later, knows exactly who Humphrey Bogart is.  That’s probably not entirely true, but Casablanca is high on the list of iconic films that I thought I should watch before I die, simply because it’s so famous.

Surprisingly, this is a case where knowing just enough about a movie to anticipate the ending doesn’t ruin it, but actually kind of enhances the rest of it.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the only thing I knew about this movie was the end of it (spoiler, if that wasn’t obvious):  Bogie sends his lady friend off on an airplane in a form of self-sacrifice.  The thrill of it was going back to see how they got to that point, like learning a joke after you’ve heard the punchline.

One of the things I marvel at in these films from the forties, particularly the ones about the war is that they came out during the war, before they knew how it was going to end, and yet they already knew how monumental it was.  When I look at the world around us now, I wonder if we are living in similarly momentous times, and how we’ll come out of it.  So far I am not totally optimistic.

For those who aren’t already familiar with the film, here’s a brief summary:  Rick Blaine (Bogart) owns a bar in Casablanca, Morocco, which is a nebulous zone of “unoccupied France,” which seems to mean that officials from France and Germany wander through the city at will, along with refugees from various parts of Europe.  Everybody’s on their way somewhere safer, so long as they can get the appropriate paperwork.  Rick just happens to get his hands on the equivalent of a get out of jail free card that will get two people out of the country scot-free.  And then an old flame walks into his bar.

The character Victor Laszlo has escaped from a concentration camp and thus is highly sought after by the Nazi forces.  His only expressed affiliation is as a member of the underground French Resistance.  Though there were certainly other groups singled out by the Germans for concentration camps, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this guy was Jewish, which kinda makes me root for him more than Bogie.  Beat those Nazis!

I’m glad I saved this for later in the year.  It’s one of my favorite movies from the earliest decades of Oscar history, and makes the whole project seem more worthwhile.  I mean, let’s be real, I could have skipped the crappy films and just watched this one, but then I wouldn’t have had the context to judge it among its contemporaries.

 

Theme:  War & Doomed Romance

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  A hill of beans