In 1953 society was much more repressed, hypocritical, and controlling. So it’s no surprise that the tragic plot of From Here to Eternity was considered shocking. It talks about adultery, bullying, alcoholism, prostitution, sex, and war. There are so many behind-the-scenes legends such as Frank Sinatra getting the role that won his Oscar because of the Mafia, and Montgomery Clift dealing with drinking problems, that is sort of ironic that the image that is always associated with the picture is of THAT famous kiss. In fact, it is so important that it was highlighted in the obituary of the actress Deborah Kerr by all the major world newspapers, including The New York Times. Of course, at #worldkissday, it’s worth remembering!
The impact of this scene today is not easily attainable, but 69 years later it remains extremely sensual. The caste improbability of Deborah Kerr in the role of an adulterous wife, discovering sex with Burt Lancaster on a beach in Hawaii, was such in 1953 that it was a scandal. The scene was censored in part because – wow – the two were lying horizontally. It comes as no surprise that the actress’ career has changed radically since that film, including getting an Oscar nomination. “I think no one believed I could act until I had the bathing suit on,” she joked in an interview years later.
In the film, Sergeant Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) falls in love with Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr), the unhappy and unfaithful wife of a superior. On a car ride, the two stop on a deserted beach, dive in and when they come out of the water they hug each other in a passionate kiss, ignoring the waves hitting them both. “I never knew it could be like this, no one kissed me like you did,” she says with wet lips. No one doubted that it wasn’t kissing they were talking about and that waves weren’t a subtle metaphor. That’s because, in the book, the scene is much more graphic and clear. Recorded on the beach at Halcona Cove, on the island of Oahu, Burt Lancaster insisted on changing the sequence in which the kiss would be exchanged from the two of them standing to a horizontal position, on the sand. Today the site is one of the most popular tourist spots in Hawaii.
The role of Karen Holmes was not for Scottish star Deborah Kerr. The only reason it wasn’t played by Joan Crawford was that she fought with director Fred Zinnemann, insisting on a special cameraman for her. Deborah auditioned and surprised everyone, but risked her career for daring. She was forced to terminate her contract with MGM and lost money in the process. But she won the artistic freedom she was looking for and recognition as well. After all, Karen was not a promiscuous woman, she was complex and a victim of a sexist society, and the actress’ personality and class helped to translate the truth about the character well. On the personal side, Deborah gained professional strength from negotiating with the studios and became one of the strongest names in Hollywood.
From Here to Eternity won 8 Oscars, but the award for Best Kiss of All Time holds for seven decades. Because, after all, it’s eternal.