Based on James Jones's epic novel, this sprawling tale of love and fate at a critical time and place in our country’s history follows two intersecting story lines: first, disillusioned marine sergeant Milt Warden (Lancaster) begins a torrid affair with his commanding officer’s bored, neglected wife (Kerr); at the same time, the young, horn-playing Private Prewitt (Clift) finds romance in the arms of a club hostess (Reed), before becoming a tragic victim of his own past boxing prowess. Notably, all this intrigue takes place on Pearl Harbor, just as that naval outpost — and the United States itself — literally get bombed into World War II.
This stunning adaptation of Jones’s smash bestseller virtually swept the 1953 Oscars — and no wonder. All these years later, it remains a fascinating, multi-layered human drama set within the larger canvas of impending, world-changing conflict. The all-star cast is uniformly excellent, with Lancaster’s assured performance providing a solid counterpoint to Clift’s more sensitive portrayal of Prewitt. Also, Frank Sinatra's Oscar-winning turn as hotheaded, scrawny Maggio single-handedly revived his sagging career. (The normally wholesome Reed also won a statuette, playing against type.) Highlights: the torrid beach scene with Lancaster and Kerr, and that culminating Pearl Harbor attack sequence.