1943. Private Robert Lee Prewitt (Clift) arrives by Army transfer at Schofield, Hawaii. His new Sargeant (Ober) knows of his boxing prowess, but when Hewitt won't fight for the unit, the officer makes his life hell. Meanwhile, the officer's wife (Kerr) starts an affair with his second in command, the man mountain 1st Sgt Warden (Lancaster).
This big best‑seller‑type movie (from James Jones's novel) about life and love on a US Army base scooped an armload of Oscars in 1953. Director Fred Zinneman stages a few scenes so well that they are still imitated or parodied and, if the 'adult' themes ‑ blunted by a censorship requirement that the army not be offended by a depiction of military sloppiness, hypocrisy, homosexuality or brutality ‑ are less daring than they once were, it has more than enough iconic moments to make it endlessly rewatchable.
Montgomery Clift is the sensitive soul who'd rather play the trumpet than box and goes AWOL only to become a martyr-hero during the attack on Pearl, Frank Sinatra is the cocky soldier who suffers appalling abuse from bullying military policeman Ernest Borgnine (The Godfather presents a scurrilous theory about how the crooner won this plum role) and Donna Reed is the most decorous, sweet-tempered hooker in the cinema.
The spectacular last-reel recreation of the bombing makes this, Michael Bay notwithstanding, the Pearl Harbor film to beat, but the unquestioned highlight is the famous on‑the‑beach adultery scene between virile sergeant Lancaster and an unusually unladylike Kerr, with the waves crashing around them to symbolise their unrestrained passions. Hard to take all that seriously these days, but always entertaining as gutsy soap opera. It was remade as a TV miniseries in 1979, with William Devane, Natalie Wood, Don Johnson and Kim Basinger.
Deserving to be seen and remembered for so much more than that kiss, this is old school drama of the highest order. And then there's always the beautiful theme - pre-Kenobi sampling, of course