6 January 2011 | secondtake
A delayed echo of From Here to Eternity--not half bad, but only half
The Proud and Profane (1956)
Yes, this movie features William Holden and Deborah Kerr, who do their characteristic best in a lower budget echo of the 1953 blockbuster "From Here to Eternity," also featuring Kerr (but with Lancaster and, for good measure, Montgomery Clift). The comparison is fair, because the similarities are too blatant, and so it's fair to also say that, as ordinary as this movie is, it had potential. There are qualities to the story line that are too moving (wounded soldiers in the Pacific, a widow tracing the last days of her Marine husband's life, a love affair against the rules) and the actors are too fine (add Thelma Ritter as an important third) to just dismiss the whole thing as a mess.
The director, George Seaton, is really a screenwriter, and though he directed a dozen features, none of them are especially memorable. His real fame rests on assisting with several great movies (like "The Wizard of Oz") and with a single brilliant coup--the screenplay for the original 1947 as well as the later TV version of "Miracle on 34th St." And it is no surprise that Seaton's own screen writing in "The Proud and Profane," though prosaic, is very good.
Ah, but filmmaking is about timing, flow, surprise, drama, light, shadow, and sounds of all kinds. This is the director's blank canvas and Seaton doesn't go anywhere in any of these areas. The light is bright and flat. The camera-work is functional and bland (cameraman John Warren being a newcomer, moving quickly to television, including many Hitchcock episodes). The score is strong (thanks to veteran master Victor Young) but there is no attempt to insert diegetic music or more interesting internal sounds. Even the supporting cast is pigeonholed into clichés (and there is no critical secondary male role, as Clift played in the 1953 movie). Thelma Ritter is at her best, more normalized than in other roles, but believable and superb.
I write all this for a routine movie because of Holden, who is an understated and sometimes brilliant actor, and Kerr, who I never warm up to but who is almost designed to be too cold to like. Kerr in particular is up and down here, at times so perfectly cast and so convincing you start to really watch closely, but other times she has to stretch her role a little (when she is dancing, for example, or in the cheesy beach scene early on) and it's awkward. Holden is made to be an enigma, and when he warms up (out of uniform) he's likable, and when he's cold, he's cold, but never admirable, which is what a commander needs to be at least.
I enjoyed this movie because I enjoy movies, but also because it has aspects that are terrific. If you really like war films that aren't about battle (as I do), this is a must see. And if you want perspective on "From Here to Eternity" you really will appreciate both films more. For just a fresh, well-made movie, terrific you will need to keep looking.