Surprised I took so long to get around to this film. I can’t count the number of times I have seen the beach make-out session used over the years. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it. The film takes place shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor at a military base where soap opera melodrama plays out. Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers to the base to find that his reputation as a boxer guarantees that he will be harassed in the worst way unless he agrees to go into the ring–something he never does. Meanwhile, Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) is making the moves on the captain’s troubled wife played by Deborah Kerr. Finally, a Pvt. Angelo Maggio, played by a Sinatra so thin he could fit into LeAnn Rimes National Anthem dress, plays the buddy and all around nice guy. Donna Reed as a prostitute and Ernest Borgnine stripped down to a racist wall of muscle are thrown in as well.
I wish I could sum up the plot, but there really isn’t one. You have three separate melodramas that occur in parallel ending in a tragedy that is buried and subsumed by the national tragedy at Pearl Harbor. The problem is that each of the melodramas is so choppy and disjointed that you feel the film must have cut out sections. As it is, I found it very difficult to care what happened to any of the characters. The performances didn’t help either, Sinatra is two-dimensional and even the great Burt Lancaster is stilted. Only Clift is given a chance to give a decent performance. Clift’s character Prewitt is a classic Fred Zinnermann character who stands alone against outside pressures. In this case, the inhuman treatment he receives because he refuses to box.
For the sheer influence alone this film is worth seeing once, but don’t expect a masterpiece or anything close to one: Approach with caution.