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I’ll be honest, I need to catch up with seeing more of the recent Oscar-nominated films and look forward to it.
But one night not long ago, I sat down to watch one of the best double features I can think of on Turner Classic Movies.
On the docket was two of the best films ever made I think. The first was “From Here to Eternity”, the 1953 adaptation of James Jones’ novel about U.S. Army life in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Next came “On The Waterfront”, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando in what I consider his finest role. The 1954 movie deals with the lives of longshoremen in New York City as they try to squeeze out a tough, meager existence under the thumb of a corrupt union boss.
Both received several Oscars each including for best picture. If I were to grade these films, both would receive As. Now every decade of movie making has cranked out its share of C, D and F material. But I wonder if the filmmakers of the last couple of decades are only capable of getting a B+ on their works and not making the movies that will stand out 50 years from now or 100 years from now, movies you are thrilled to see over and over again.
“From Here to Eternity” and “On The Waterfront” have characters that seem so real and when I see the movies I feel like I’m standing next to Brando as Terry Malloy watching everything unfold on the docks or I’m in Schofield Barracks in Hawaii with Burt Lancaster as he contemplates life as First Sgt. Warden and the cost Warden will have to pay to get what he wants out of his life.
Brando won an Oscar for best actor as his Malloy begins the movie amoral and as events unfold in front of him, he realizes the immorality of what is going on and stands up to the corrupt union boss played by Lee J. Cobb. The final moments are unforgettable. Malloy has been beaten up by union thugs. His fellow dock workers promise to follow him to the dock and say no for the first time to union boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb’s character). Brando struggles to his feet and may fall at any moment, but he leads his fellow workers into work.
Brando wasn’t the only top-notch performance. It was a crowded field for best supporting actor in 1954. Any other year, Karl Malden, who played Father Barry, would have won. The part of the film where he stands over a murdered longshoreman in a cargo hold of a ship is one of the best combinations of acting and writing that I have ever seen.
Eva Marie Saint, who played Edie Doyle, the sister of Joey Doyle, a longshoremen murdered early in the film, made her debut in “On The Waterfront” and got an Oscar for portraying a woman trying to stop the madness on the docks.
With “From Here to Eternity” you have Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, who played the wife of Lancaster’s commanding officer, generating a hot romance while trying not to get caught.
There’s one brilliant performance after another. You have Frank Sinatra’s Private Maggio, a man who you just know is running out of time. Sinatra won an Oscar for his work as did Donna Reed, who played Alma Burke, a woman doing whatever it takes to get on the right side of the tracks.
And who can forget, Montgomery Clift’s performance as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt. He’s a man trying to come to grips with both his love and hate of the Army. The scene where he plays taps at Schofield Barracks in memory of his friend Maggio is one of the most unforgettable scenes ever in the movies.
Again, I want to stress that I like the movies of the last 20 years or so. I just want to feel the same way I do about them as I do about movies such as “From Here to Eternity” and “On The Waterfront”. I believe they represent the best in filmmaking and I’m genuinely thrilled to see them each and every time. I marvel at them.