Filmsite Movie Review
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

After a home-cooked meal at Alma's home, Prewitt proposes marriage but she turns him down. Low in self-esteem, she explains that she is not the marrying kind - she is little more than a streetwalker ("two steps up from the pavement") and he is only a common "no class dogface" soldier:

Alma: You're a funny one...Cause I'm the girl you met at the New Congress Club. That's about two steps up from the pavement.
Prewitt: Well, what am I? A private, no class dogface. The way most civilians look at that, that's two steps up from nothin'.
Alma: Prewitt, I thought we were happy. Why do you want to spoil things?

She is more realistic about their future together: "Prew. It's true we love each other now. We need each other. But back in the States, it might be different." The real reason to refuse marriage is because of Prewitt's total allegiance to the Army. Rather than becoming the wife of a lowly enlisted man, Alma insists that she must raise her social status and marry a man of "proper" means in a "proper" marriage. That would prove that she isn't a cheap, low-class hooker. In her words, "when you're proper, you're safe":

Alma: I won't marry you because I don't want to be the wife of a soldier...Because nobody's gonna stop me from my plan. Nobody, nothing. Because I want to be proper...Yes, proper. In another year, I'll have enough money saved. Then, I'm gonna go back to my hometown in Oregon and I'm gonna build a house for my mother and myself, and join the country club and take up golf. And I'll meet the proper man with the proper position to make a proper wife who can run a proper home and raise proper children. And I'll be happy because when you're proper, you're safe.
Prewitt: You got guts, honey. I hope you can pull it off.

She confesses, however, that she still needs him because she is lonely:

Alma: I do mean it when I say I need you 'cause I'm lonely. You think I'm lying, don't you?
Prewitt: Nobody ever lies about being lonely.

A divorce from Karen would be unthinkable for Captain Holmes: "Because the scandal would spoil your chances for a promotion." Karen wonders which part of her husband's character would be hurt more by her affair - his pride or his curiosity.

Karen: I wonder why men feel so differently about it [divorce] than women.
Holmes: It's just not the same.

An informant tells Prewitt that Maggio is courageously suffering abuse at the hands of the stockade Sergeant during his brutalizing imprisonment: "Fatso's really got it in for Maggio. He's usin' a billy too in places where it won't show. On the back, on the chest. He's got it down to a system. He kicks him a lot too. You know how Maggio's takin' it? He just keeps spittin' in Fatso's eye." Prewitt admires his defiant yet vulnerable friend: "He's a good man." But Maggio "won't peep - that boy's about the toughest nut in the woods...well, maybe he's crackin' at that...after 'Fatso' threw him in the hole - that's solitary. He started talkin' a couple of times about how he's gonna escape. He said to tell ya he's gonna look you up one of these nights."

Tempers flare once again when Prewitt is heckled and tormented beyond the breaking point by Sergeant Ike Galovitch (John Dennis) - one of the company's soldiers (and a heavyweight on the boxing team). Prewitt restrains his boxing ability as they trade bare-fist punches on the lawn and are surrounded by most of the men. The ex-boxer is mercilessly beaten when reluctant to punch his opponent in the face. From a balcony, some senior officers notice that Captain Holmes stalls and doesn't immediately interfere and break up the brawl. Members of the boxing team speak up for Prewitt, but he is still adamant about not joining the squad: "If you guys think this means I'm steppin' into a ring, you're wrong."

Some of the boys in the company pass time by singing "Re-enlistment Blues" - Prewitt plays part of the tune through his bugle mouthpiece. That same night, Prewitt and Warden both get drunk while sitting in the middle of a dirt road and commiserate about their painful love affairs and the pressures put upon them. Warden resists being corrupted by advancing into a higher position of power - exemplified by Holmes. The two establish camaraderie for each other as they share booze together:

Warden: I got the biggest troubles in the whole world...Take love. Did you personally ever see any of this love? (Prewitt nods affirmatively) You'll understand what I mean. This girl, see, she wants me to officer. Do you see me as an officer?
Prewitt: Yeah, I can see you as an officer. You'd be a good officer.
Warden: You both can see more than I can see. I don't want to be an officer. I'm happy where I am. I might turn out to be a guy like Holmes. You wouldn't want me to be a guy like Holmes, would ya? Huh? Well, would ya?
Prewitt: A man should be what he can do.
Warden: How's your girl? Now what's her name again?
Prewitt: Lorene.
Warden: Oh yeah. I remember now. A beautiful name. Beautiful.

Warden declares his friendship and steadfast support for Prewitt: "Holmes is bound to get him sooner or later. And he's the best stinkin' soldier in the whole Army." Just then, Maggio stumbles into the road and collapses into Prewitt's arms. After a month of abuse and repeated vicious beatings, he escaped the stockade - his face is bloodied from falling out of a moving truck during his flight. Injured internally, Maggio dies in Prew's arms - but not before telling him:

Fatso done it, Prew. He likes to whack me in the gut. He asked me if it hurts and I spit at him like always. Only yesterday it was bad. He hit me. He hit me. He hit me. Then I-I had to get out, Prew. I had to get out...They're gonna send me to the stockade, Prew? Watch out for Fatso. Watch out for Fatso. He'll try to crack ya. And if they put ya in a hole, don't yell. Don't make a sound. You'll still be yellin' when they come to take ya out. Just lay there. Just lay there. And be quiet, Prew.

A bare bunk and mattress mark Maggio's absent place. That evening, Prewitt, in tribute to his deceased friend, plays taps (dubbed by Manny Klein) for Maggio on the company's parade grounds. During the playing of the soulful tune, the camera finds the somber, saddened faces of Warden and other soldiers in the barracks as they listen. Tears stream down Prewitt's cheeks.

Seeking revenge, Prewitt follows "Fatso" as he leaves the New Congress Club, and they step around into a dark alley to talk. The sneering stockade Sergeant has no pity for Maggio's death: "Oh, the wop?...A real tough monkey." Prewitt accuses the insensitive brute of killing his friend, and he replies: "Did I? Well, if I did, he asked for it." The confrontation leads to a slashing knife fight - Prewitt anticipated that "Fatso" would challenge him with a knife so he brought his own switchblade. Both men are severely cut and injured - unseen by the camera, the Sergeant is stabbed and mortally wounded in the gut. He falls to the ground and dies.

Newspaper headlines read:

Killer of Stockade Sergeant Still Remains Unknown
Local and Military Police Seek Clues to Slaying

Alma helps shelter Prewitt in her place when he goes AWOL for days after the murder to heal from his wounds. Warden keeps Prewitt on the rolls even after three days' absence. In the meantime, Captain Holmes is the subject of a damning investigation and report filed and sent to the Inspector General - for mistreating Prewitt:

It was found that Captain Holmes has been guilty of indefensible cruelty to the aforesaid Private Prewitt. As mentioned, this included the instigation of wholly unauthorized tactics to force the soldier to join the inter-regiment boxing team.

"For the good of the service," Holmes is relieved of duty and forced to resign to avoid a court-martial for cruel malfeasance. Holmes is chastised by his superior officers: "...the quicker you're out of the Army, the better for everybody, especially the Army." The other non-commissioned officers are forewarned that boxing will no longer be over-emphasized: "From now on, no man's gonna earn his stripes by boxing." Sgt. Galovitch is busted to Private and put in charge of the latrine.

As Warden leans on the wall while speaking on the phone, a calendar on the wall marks the day with a subtle reminder: "December 6, Saturday" - 1941. At their familiar Kuhio beach-park rendezvous spot eight miles from Pearl Harbor and fifteen miles from Kailua (a directional marker indicates the distances), Karen describes the consequences of her husband's discipline case and resignation - Holmes must return to the States. She asks about whether she should get a divorce from her husband, now that she is available to him. Warden turns away from her by admitting that he has not signed the papers preliminary to becoming an officer - one of her prior requirements for divorce. [With Holmes booted out, however, now it isn't necessary for Warden to file the papers.] His main reason to break off his relationship with her is because he cannot identify with the officer class. Like Prewitt, he has devoted his whole life to serving (and being "married to") the Army as an "enlisted man" - a pure masculine ideal - and he seemingly loves the Army more than he loves her. Likewise, Karen has restricted herself to commissioned officers and cannot marry anyone lower than that. And because she wants to end all the "hiding and sneaking" - they part ways:

Karen: He's being sent back to the States. He's sailing next week. He wants me to go with him. What'll we do? When do you think you'll get your commission?
Warden: I didn't put it in. I filled it out, but I didn't sign it. I took it out of my desk a dozen times, but I couldn't sign it.
Karen: (dismayed and disbelieving) Why? But, but it was the plan!...It's been weeks. You can't just say you'll do a thing and then not do it..
Warden: Karen, listen to me.
Karen: But why didn't you do it? Why didn't you tell me?
Warden: ...Karen. I'm no officer. I'm an enlisted man. I can't be anything else. If I tried to be an officer, I'd be putting on an act. I just can't do it. Please don't ask me why.
Karen (knowing deep down): I know why. You don't have to become an officer now, Milt, now that Dana's out of the Army. You just don't want to marry me. You're already married - to the Army.
Warden: I love you, Karen.
Karen: (She stands and moves away) I know. I know.
Warden: (weakly) I don't want you to go back to Holmes.
Karen: I don't want to either, but I am. There's nothing else for me to do. It's no good with us, Milt. It could never have been any good. Hiding and sneaking. It had to wear out. Goodbye, Sergeant. Thanks.
Warden: It ain't goodbye. It's - we'll see each other again - somewhere.
Karen: Of course we will. Somewhere.

Prewitt is drinking away his problems at Alma's place - she shows him the "inside page" of the newspaper - a promising headline reading:

Still No Clue in the Fatal Stabbing of Staff Sergeant James R. Judson

But he toasts himself as an epitaph to his drinking prowess and his ultimate demise: "To the Memory of Robert E. Lee Prewitt."

At about ten minutes to eight (bells chime in the ALOHA tower) on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the sound of planes flying through the pass interrupt a breakfast mess hall meal at Schofield Barracks - one of the officers casually remarks and mistakes the Japanese planes for friendly aircraft: "Sure look pretty over them mountains." Although it sounds like "dynamitin' down at Wheeler Field," the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor has commenced. Warden rushes outdoors and notices a single soldier screaming unintelligibly ("The Japs...are bombin' Wheeler Field. I seen the red circles on the...") and running across the parade grounds lawn with two planes behind him. One of the fighter planes strafes the field and immediately kills the soldier (Alvin Sargent, Oscar-winning screenwriter for Julia (1977)).

Chaos breaks loose and there is rampant military confusion as more attacks are unleashed on the men who rush from their barracks onto the field. Radio reports warn of the real danger: "This is a real attack - not a maneuver. The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. Please keep in your homes. Do not go on the streets. This is a real attack. Japanese planes are bombing our Naval and Army installations." Sergeant Warden takes charge and rallies his enlisted men to prepare to fight - barking commands and orders to the non-coms:

I want every man to get his rifle and go to his bunk and stay there. And I mean stay there...You'll get your ears shot off if you go outside. You wanna be heroes? You'll get plenty of chances. There'll probably be Japs in your lap before night. Now get movin'. We're wastin' time.

Authentic documentary footage captures the explosions and fires at Pearl Harbor. Sergeant Warden orders the armory to be broken into, and issues weapons to his other commanders. The soldiers return gunfire from the roofs of Schofield Barracks toward the Japanese Zero fighters. One of the men blows the cavalry charge on a bugle: "Friday's gone crazy. He's blowin' the Cavalry Charge." Taking a charismatic, leadership role, Warden holds a heavy, repeating machine gun at his waist as he fires at the planes streaming overhead. One of his targets crashes in a ball of flames.

Prewitt hears of the attack on the radio at Alma's place and how the infantry units at Schofield Barracks have moved out and are manning beach positions. The broadcaster also warns: "This is no maneuver. This is the real McCoy. Look out for falling shrapnel. Keep under cover. Blackout and curfew restrictions will be rigidly enforced. Stay in your homes. Don't use the telephone." The radio broadcaster continues to describe the reality of the attack: "The danger of an invasion continues to exist. And the planes have been identified as Japanese..." Alma is frantic after returning from Queen's Hospital to give blood.

Exasperated by the news on the evening of December 7th following the morning's attack, Prewitt who is still bandaged and weak, insists upon joining his men now that war has broken out. He wants to be a loyal, fighting soldier against the enemy, despite his individualistic nature. Alma pathetically pleads and begs with him to remain - she even offers to marry him! But as Milt Warden had earlier decided, he feels he must return to the base and be loyal and patriotic as a "soldier" to the service. Alma cannot understand his unrequited love and heroic dedication to the Army - an institution that treated him "like dirt." "What do you want to go back to the Army for?" she asks:

Prewitt: Who do they think they're fighting? They're pickin' trouble with the best Army in the world.
Alma: Where are you going?
Prewitt: ...I gotta get back to the company.
Alma: The company? But why?
Prewitt: Why?
Alma: But, but you can't. You're not well yet. Besides, you're AWOL. They'll throw you in the stockade.
Prewitt: They're gonna be throwin' them out of the stockade. They need every guy they can get.
Alma: But your side will open up. They'll find out it was you who killed that soldier.
Prewitt: Once I report into the company, they'll take care of me. I'll be all right once I get back.
Alma: But you'll never make it. There's patrols all over!
Prewitt: I'll make it. I know a short-cut.
Alma: (on her knees) Prew, stay 'til morning. Maybe if you'll stay 'til morning, you'll change your mind. Oh Prew, don't go! (She hugs him fiercely.) I'll do anything you want. We can go back to the States together. We can even get married. If you go now, I'll never see you again, I know it.
Prewitt: I'm sorry.
Alma: What do you want to go back to the Army for? What did the Army ever do for you besides treat you like dirt and give you one awful going-over and get your friend killed? What do you want to go back to the Army for?
Prewitt: What do I want to go back to the Army for? I'm a soldier.
Alma: A soldier. A soldier. A regular, from the regular Army. A thirty-year man.

After ignoring Alma's entreaties, Prewitt returns to the barracks. He is accidentally and tragically killed by sentinel guards - his own men, emphasizing his 'outsider' status. In the darkness, they react nervously to him (thinking that he's a Japanese ground-based saboteur) when he fails to halt and identify himself.

At the place of Prewitt's death, Warden reacts to the news of the "good soldier's" demise with praise and a glorifying epitaph:

He was always a hardhead, sir. But he was a good soldier. He loved the Army more than any soldier I ever knew.

Warden grieves over his dead body with a eulogy. He regretfully curses Prew's perpetual stubbornness and overt individuality that indirectly led to his death - when he couldn't "play it smart":

You just couldn't play it smart, could ya? All ya had to do was box. But no, not you, you hard-head! Funny thing is there ain't gonna be any boxin' championships this year. (He looks up at the guards.) What's the matter with you guys? Ain't you ever seen a dead man? Let's get this body out of here. We ain't got all night.

The war levels the frustrating human experiences of the protagonists and creates many casualties - it is the culmination of all the smaller dramatic and relationship crises. Karen and Alma (who are from two opposite and contrasting social strata - although both might be indistinguishably considered as tramps) lean on the railing of a Matson ocean liner leaving wartime Hawaii for the mainland to find new lives - after lost and failed loves. They have both experienced broken marriage prospects. And they have both been released from military men who each claimed the Army as their one true love. On the deck as they forlornly look back toward the receding island, Karen throws two flower leis into the water from the railing and then explains a legend:

Alma: It's very beautiful, isn't it?
Karen: I think it's the most beautiful place I ever saw in my life. I can almost see where I worked from here. There's a legend. If they float in toward shore you'll come back someday. If they float out to sea, you won't.

The flower leis float away - they won't be coming back. They are both thrust by fate (and by the men in their lives) away from the island toward their uncertain futures.

Alma speaks about Prewitt, her fiancee. She memorializes him and their aborted affair - and lies (or is deluded) about him when she describes him as an idealized, tragic (and romantic) hero who was killed while defending Pearl Harbor:

Alma: I won't come back. You see, my fiancee was killed on December 7th.
Karen: Oh, I'm sorry.
Alma: He was a bomber pilot. He tried to taxi his plane to the edge of the apron. And the Japs made a direct hit on it. Maybe you read about it in the papers? He was awarded the Silver Star. They sent it to his mother. She wrote me she wanted me to have it.
Karen: That's very fine of her.
Alma: Why, they're very fine people, Southern people. He was named after a general - Robert E. Lee - Prewitt.
Karen: Who?
Alma: Robert E. Lee Prewitt. Isn't that a silly old name?

Surely Karen must realize and be aware that Alma is lying, fantasizing or deceiving herself - in the name of love. [After her many encounters and conversations with Sergeant Warden, Karen would have known that Prewitt wasn't a bomber pilot from the South who died as Alma described it.]

In a gesture of empathy, the camera pans down and finds Alma clutching Prewitt's bugle mouthpiece in her hands. The leis continue to float out to sea.

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