Donna Reed received an Academy Award on her first and only nomination for her performance as Alma 'Lorene' Burke in Fred Zinnemann's From Here to Eternity. It's easy to see why Donna Reed won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1953. Her film won Best Picture, she was a well-established actress, and her role was pure Oscar bait (prostitute!). From Here to Eternity is about a group of soldiers stationed on Hawaii, eventually building up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ensemble cast, including Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Frank Sinatra, are all quite great but I have to say that Donna Reed is probably the weakest leak of the five main cast members. She plays Alma Burke, a 'hostess' at a gentleman's club (under the name Lorene) that falls for Clift's Private Prewitt.
Her performance has two main sides to it (much like her character)-- the first one is when she is 'Lorene', working at the gentleman's club for. Here is where she really shines, oozing with so much sexuality it's easy to see why she attracts Prewitt. She never overplays her sexuality, however, and instead manages to be quite mysterious and exotic, even. This was clearly a stretch for her, given her usually wholesome image (even though this movie came out well before her television series), and it must have been a shock to voters that Reed could play someone so sensual. Her relationship with Clift at the club is something for us to question, and it somewhat feels like we dont' know where Alma really is at in regards to Prewitt. They have a great chemistry, but it's hard to tell that line between whether Alma loves him or is just doing her job. It's handled well by Reed, even if it is a little unspectacular.
It's when the two get together outside of the club and she reveals her name is actually Alma that she loses all of that exotic mystique and instead becomes bland and unappealing in every way. It's strange how much that black dress worked for her, and how lacking she is out of it. The remainder of Reed's performance is very all over the place. There is one scene in particular where she is telling Clift her plans to return to her home where she seems to be more of an mad scientist than a young woman returning to her hometown. She freezes up and looks maniacal rather than sad or nostalgic. In her final big confrontation scene where she is screaming at Clift not to return to the army during the attack on Pearl Harbor, she is horribly over dramatic and incredibly awkward to behold. She doesn't handle any scenes where she has to display an outpouring of emotions well at all. Watching her cry was one of the most awkward scenes in the film, and not natural.
I don't want to sound too hard on Donna Reed, because in all reality this performance was an average one. She's good at the beginning (not great), and just awkward at the end (not dreadful). In the middle of that she's mostly just there and pretty bland. I just can't help but be disappointed a little in this performance, because it had all the makings of a great one. In a great film with a strong script and phenomenal costars, Reed squanders all that potential and instead gives a shrug-worthy performance. 3/5 Wiests.