Chuck Koplinsky discusses "From Here to Eternity" - Part 1

Uploaded by cahEIU on 25.04.2011

[no dialogue].
Thank you for asking me back again.
I always love coming down here because I love talking about
film, and you always have such great topics.
Today, I want to talk briefly about the transition of
Jones's novel "From Here to Eternity" to the screen.
Since film started they've been, adapting novels to film
has always been there.
From the very start of the medium we've had that,
and some of them have been far more successful than others.
Every once in a while you have a film like
"To Kill a Mockingbird" that actually does capture
the spirit of the novel and actually complements it.
Other times you have adaptations that...
[audience laughter].
...adaptations that I guess you say, well, that was a
good try, and then they become something else,
"Moby Dick" being a good example.
If you look at it as a stand alone film it's a pretty good
adventure movie, but obviously if you compare it to Melville's
novel with all of it's symbolism and [unclear audio],
it doesn't even come close.
So adaptations can be tricky.
Every once in a while you'll get one that actually improves on
its source material greatly.
And then every once in a while you get a complete disaster.
So adapting novels into films, they're a thorny, thorny
prospect, and "From Here to Eternity" certainly did present
more than its number of difficulties as far as
trying to get this massive novel adapted to the screen.
There were length problems, there were content problems,
there were all sorts of problems as far as trying to get this
novel, which I read in its hard back form which was about
870 pages long, down to a manageable film.
We all know that a film script, usually one page of script
equals one minute of time on the screen, so you don't want to
really go over 120 pages, and certainly paring this thing down
was really quite a task.
Jones himself of course, I won't belabor the point,
you all know I'm sure from other talks earlier this week
about the success of the novel, what it did for his life,
what it did for his career.
And when Hollywood came knocking,
he wasn't too surprised.
It was pretty much expected that someone would attempt this,
though he kind of thought that maybe it would happen
at a later date.
He didn't really know that it was going to happen
as soon as it did after the publication of the book.
The film came out in 1953, and I believe the book
was published in 1951.
There we have a great picture, I found a great picture of
Sinatra, Montgomery Clift.
The gentleman in the middle with the book is Buddy Adler.
He was the producer of the film, and there's Jones right there.
They're standing for one of those wonderfully stilted
still moments where they say, oh yes, everyone take a look
at the book, there.
There's Harry Cohn, he was the president of Columbia Pictures
at this point in the 1950s.
He paid $82,000 for the rights of "From Here to Eternity"
at that time, which was a huge amount of money, and everyone
in the industry labelled this Cohn's Folly.
They said there's no way you're going to be able to adapt this
novel to where it's going to actually resemble the book
into a film, you're going to have to take so many things
out, this is a waste of money, you're wasting your time.
Well, from everything I've read about Mr. Cohn, he was an
incredibly stubborn, rude gentleman, and he did not
take no for an answer.
He had various people take a crack at the novel as far as
transforming it into a screenplay, Jones being one
of them, he actually wrote a treatment for it himself.
This is Daniel Taradash.
He eventually, when all the dust was settled, he adapted the book
into the screenplay that won him an Oscar.
Obviously, as I have said before, he had to make a
great many changes to the book.
The language had to be cleaned up for one thing.
The suggestion that Donna Reed's character, Lorene,
worked at a house of prostitution.
Well, we couldn't really say that, so it becomes a
gentlemen's club and she's a hostess.
The one thing that bothered director Fred Zinnemann
the most was the change that was made in the
fate of Captain Holmes.
Captain Holmes is the officer in charge of the division in which
Montgomery Clift's character, Prewitt, is transferred to.
In the film, he is forced to resign for his behavior
in regards to the treatment of Prewitt.
In the book, he's actually given a promotion, and
Zinnemann just cringed at that.
He said it was the worst change that they made because he knew
how the Army worked and he knew that this is how they would have
treated that situation, not in making him resign.
One element that isn't often talked about as far as a big
change from the book to the movie is the fact that
the Deborah Kerr character, she has a son in the book.
Bad enough in 1953 that she is unfaithful to her husband,
but they felt that she would be completely unlikeable
on the screen if she was a mother as well.
So any mention of a son between them is completely gone
and at one point in the movie, if you remember,
she's talking to Burt Lancaster about the pain of living in a
house without any children.
So I can see, it's pretty obvious why they made the change
to make her appear a little bit more sympathetic.
But the thing that suffers because of that is
the end of Jones' book.
There's a wonderful passage at the end of the book
that I have excerpted here.
The final scene of the book has her and her son,
they're sailing away from Pearl Harbor and the son says,
"Mother, do you think the war will last long enough so that
I can graduate from the Point and be in it?"
"No," she said, "I don't think it will last that long."
"Well, gee wiz Mother," her son said, "I want to be in it."
"Well cheer up," Karen said, "and don't let it worry you.
"You might miss this one, but you'll be just the right age
for the next one."
"You really think so Mother?"
her son said anxiously.
So a great moment that was lost in trying to clean things up.
That is sometimes what happens when we have to translate
these things into a different medium to fit in to the
mores of the time.
There's Zinnemann there, what a great director he was.
Harry Cohn did not want this man to work for him,
but producer Buddy Adler insisted that his sensibility
was the one that was going to capture the essence of
this book, and he insisted that they hire Fred Zinnemann
to direct the film there.
He knew that he wasn't going to get along with Cohn either
and he insisted, their first battle came over the casting.
But before I get to that, let me just back up a little bit.
Zinnemann, probably the movie that made his name or really
got him the the first sense of promise was "The Search"
in 1948, which was Montgomery Clift's first film.
Some people list it as his first film, others list "Red River" as
his first film, but they were made back to back and usually
the release date of "Red River" is listed before.
Also, "High Noon" of course, a great Zinnemann film which
he made right before "From Here to Eternity".
This is, can any one tell me who this is?
Yeah, I couldn't have told you either.
Aldo Ray, this is Aldo Ray, who was under contract at Columbia
at the time of the making "From Here to Eternity", and had
Harry Cohn had his way, he would have had the part of Prewitt.
Zinnemann said there's no way that this was going to happen,
and he said we need to offer this part to Montgomery Clift.
Cohn's response was you're out of your mind, this guy
doesn't look like a soldier, he doesn't look like a boxer,
and more than likely he's a homosexual.
There's no way he's going to be in this movie.
Zinnemann basically walked out of his office
leaving Cohn screaming.
He said, look, if you don't offer him the role,
I'm off the picture.
Cohn relented, sent Clift the script the next day apparently,
and he was signed.
His salary for the movie at this point was $150,000,
which was quite a good paycheck back then.
They also had an interesting battle with Joan Crawford.
Cohn had initially cast her in the Deborah Kerr role.
There are a couple myths surrounding this as well.
She was actually signed, she was going to be in the film,
and there's one myth that says that she quit the film over the
costumes that she was going to have to wear.
Other people said well, yes, she was temperamental,
but that's just silly.
More than likely, they say, she left the film because she knew
she wasn't going to get top billing in the movie and that
she was worried about certain raw elements that her character
was going to have to display at that point.
Cohn suggested that perhaps they go to Joan Fontaine
for the role, or perhaps Jennifer Jones.
Adler said, well, what about Deborah Kerr?