I saw this film for probably the third time this past week. (It’s my mom’s favorite.) It boosted the careers of its stars: Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, and Frank Sinatra (who provides most of the much-needed humor and optimism). Wow, what a cast! The film won 8 Academy Awards; it was nominated for 13.
Young Army Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Clift) comes to a new base for his assignment. From his first day, many of the other men bother him about not fighting (boxing) in the company league; we learn that he was quite successful at it, aside from one (tragic) event. Sergeant Milton Warden (Lancaster) tells the others to leave the guy alone. Warden, who’s admired as a great soldier, likes Prewitt, though he calls him “hard-headed.” Prewitt, no matter what insults or how much punishment he’s given, says he’ll never box again.
She’s not that into you… but give her time! Yes, that’s petite Donna Reed (post-It’s a Wonderful Life). She plays “Lorene” (real name: Alma), a somewhat jaded dance hall girl who Prewitt wants to get close to. Though he wants a relationship, Alma is hesitant because she wants to keep working to secure her future. Reed, who’s character is tough and independent-minded, won Best Supporting Actress.
Warden has his life complicated by his intense attraction to Karen (Kerr), the wife of his boss, Captain Holmes. Like Alma, Karen is more than what she appears to be- sublimating her great loneliness and sorrow by behaving scandalously. (Above: Kerr and Lancaster share one the most famous kisses in Hollywood film history. Sigh…)
To her surprise, Karen falls deeply in love with Warden, a simple man who’s content to be a humble soldier.
There is more to romance in this story; there are serious issues that arise. The jovial Private Angelo Maggio (Sinatra) is bullied by the racist Sgt. Judson (Ernest Borgnine). Maggio and Prewitt were great friends though opposite in temperment; they have fun and get into trouble together. But there is a sense of foreboding throughout much of the film, as is fitting- the story takes place on the island of Oahu just a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor.