Mar 22, 2013

Gay Friendship in "From Here to Eternity"

The 1953 movie "From Here to Eternity" is famous for the hetero-erotic scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr smooching in the tide, but there's a lot more to it.  A lot of gay content censored from the original James Jones novel (1952), but a lot left in.

The plot strands contain a heavy dose of melodrama:  In Hawaii just before Pearl Harbor, Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift, left) refuses to participate in his company's boxing tournament, so his commanding officer, Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober), lays on the harassment and extra assignments to break him.  Meanwhile Prewitt falls in love with a thinly-disguised prostitute named Lorena (Donna Reed), but she won't marry him because she's saving up for a "respectable" marriage.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) begins an affair with Dana's wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr), but she won't get a divorce and marry him because she's "spoiled" (which means, apparently, unable to have children).

What's gay in all that?

1. Dana's lack of interest in his wife; he has "affairs," and Karen states that they're with women, but we never see any.  Plus his intense interest in boxing in general, and Prewitt in particular. When his superiors discover that he is abusing Prewitt, he is fired, and sadly takes the photos of hunky boxers down from his office wall.

2. Though Prewitt and Warden are both involved with women, they have time for some rather physical buddy-bonding, with arms on shoulders and pressed against knees.  (By the way, they both have shirtless scenes, and Warden spends a lot of time in a swimsuit).

3. Maggio (Frank Sinatra) was gay in the original novel, and in the movie, he seems not particularly interested in women.  In fact, the only time he expresses interest, he's trying to horn in on Prewitt's evening with Lorena.

But he's very interested in Prewitt.  He goes AWOL in order to keep a date with Prewitt, punches a MP, and is sentenced to six months in the stockade.  There he antagonizes the guard Judson (Ernest Borgnine), who doesn't like gays. . .um, I mean Italians. . .and is severely beaten.  He escapes, seeks out Prewitt, and dies in his arms.

Prewitt is so distraught over Maggio's death that he kills Judson and then goes AWOL himself, only springing back into action when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

4. The homoromantic bond between Prewitt and Maggio is intensified by Montgomery Clift's personal  conflict over being gay.  One biography of Clift suggests that he was cast precisely to add some "ambiguity" to the character.  Burt Lancaster was also rumored to be gay at the time.