Wednesday, May 18, 2011


When I first saw this picture it reminded me of the shot in the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity.  As scripted, Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster's classic clinch on the beach was to be filmed standing up. It was Lancaster's idea to do it horizontally in the surf. The scene was filmed at Halona Cove on the eastern side of Oahu, near Koko Head Crater and Sandy Beach, and the location became a major tourist attraction for years after.
The MPAA banned photos of the famous Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr passionate kiss on the beach for being too erotic. Many prints had shortened versions of the scene because projectionists would cut out frames to keep as souvenirs.  How times have changed.  The censors also demanded that Deborah Kerr's swimsuit should feature a skirt in its design so as to not be too sexually provocative.
Joan Crawford was originally meant to play her role, but when she insisted on shooting the film with her own cameraman, the studio balked. They decided to take a chance and cast Kerr, who then was struggling with her ladylike stereotype, to play the adulterous military wife who has an affair with Burt Lancaster. Deborah Kerr was romantically involved with Burt Lancaster while filming.  The casting worked and Ms. Kerr's career thereafter enjoyed a new, sexier versatility.

Rumour has it that Frank Sinatra got his role in the movie because of his alleged Mafia connections and that this was the basis for a similar subplot in The Godfather. This has been dismissed on several occasions, however, by the cast and crew of the film. Director Fred Zinneman commented that "...the legend about a horse's head having been cut off is pure invention, a poetic license on the part of Mario Puzo who wrote The Godfather."[2] More plausible is the notion that Sinatra's then-wife Ava Gardner persuaded studio head Harry Cohn's wife to use her influence with him
The material of the rather explicit novel had to be considerably toned down to appease the censors of the time. For example, in the famous beach scene, it is less obvious that Kerr's and Lancaster's characters are having sex than it is in the novel and in the later, more frank 1979 miniseries based on the book. Also left out of the film are Maggio, Sinatra's character, being a male hustler and the portrait of the gay nightlife in Waikiki.

Lancaster was somewhat intimidated by Montegomery Clift's skill and intensity and said, "I'd never worked with an actor of Clift's caliber before. I was afraid he was going to blow me right off the screen."
One of the most unadaptable aspects of the novel concerns the off-base activities of many of the soldiers, of which you see no hint on the screen. In the book, the gay population of Honolulu is significant and visible, and many of the G Is, including Maggio, spend time with them as a source of income. Not, in most cases, involving sex, but companionship, going to their apartments, taking off their shirts, lounging around and looking beautiful and then getting paid "cabfare." Of course, some of the soldiers go farther, one even commits suicide over the fear of having "gone queer." Prewitt, Clift's character, tags along with Maggio on one of his "dates" and doesn't have any qualms about it. Casting Mongomery Clift gives an interesting undertone to the character. Patricia Bosworth in her biography of Clift, quotes another of his friends as saying, "Jimmy Jones (the author) was on a real macho kick, which I found phony as hell. This was 1953, but he was wearing a silver Navajo belt, silver bracelets and tight jeans, and he came on very strong sexually." Jones asked whether Clift was a homosexual and confided, "I would have had an affair with him, but he never asked me."  
If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it.  Frank Sinatra won an Academy Award for for his portrayal as did Donna Reed for her role as a pretty sweet little whore.  It seems the Academy loves to give out awards to women who play harlots.  The film was the last Academy Award Best Picture winner to receive nominations in all of the four acting categories. I would love to see it redone with all the "good parts" left in.

Montegomery Clift is always wonderful.  His vulnerability and good looks make him very watchable.  The book is of course more graphic in detail and a good read.  The film popularized Aloha shirts.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the back story on this remarkable film. i agree MM, when i saw the photo of the two guys, i immediately was reminded of the film. i don't think it was an accident.

harry said...

This was a very informative post. I have, of course, seen the movie, but I have never read the novel. I had no idea that it contained gay elements. I will definitely have to scare up a copy.

Thank you!