The movie was 1953s From Here To Eternity which has long been on the official list of movies containing scenes shot on or near the Monterey Peninsula. It's a melodramatic depiction of the lives of soldiers and women in Hawaii just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Interestingly, residents of Oahu and residents of Monterey County both lay claim to the beach where the kissing scene was filmed. Hawaiians proudly promote Halona Cove on the southeast side of Oahu as "Eternity Beach" because they say the scene was shot right there. Monterey County residents like to boast that the Hawaiians are mistaken because Pfeiffer Beach (some say Garrapata Beach) in Big Sur was the site of the illicit tryst.
How can that be?
An article in the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of Carmel Magazine explained that the scene was originally filmed in Hawaii, but the director didn't like the lighting and he decided to re-shoot the scene. It was too expensive to return to Oahu so he chose a much shorter trip to Big Sur where the final version of the scene was put in the can. "It happened here, in Big Sur" the article emphatically proclaimed.
Unfortunately, Carmel Magazine was wrong, and I have proof. Take a look at these two video stills (you may click on them to see larger versions):
|Exhibit A: Deborah Kerr in From Here To Eternity.|
|Exhibit B: Halona Cove in Hawaii|
Notice the rock formation just above Deborah Kerr's head. Although it is kind of fuzzy, it is clearly a match for the rock in the upper right of the lower photo. Note the slope is steeper on the right side than the left side, and the points on the left side are visible in both. The rock shows up twice in the movie scene, proving unmistakably that the scene was shot in Hawaii, not Big Sur.
Other portions of the scene, which I am unable to show here, clearly show a guardrail on the cliff above the beach, indicating the presence of a road very close by. Google satellite maps show a road directly above Halona Cove. Pfeiffer Beach, however, has no roads above it, and the only road leading to it stops well short of the beach. Furthermore, the rocks in the scene do not quite resemble the craggy granite found on the Monterey County coastline.
There may very well have been some production activity related to the movie in Big Sur. Most legends contain some element of truth. Doug Lumsden of Monterey Movie Tours said in a recent e-mail:
There are oldtimers in Big Sur who swear they saw Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach with the entire film crew for two days. I don’t think there’s any question that some sort of filming was done for that scene in our area, but we’ll probably never know the entire story. All the principals have died and the real answer will probably never be known.A few possibilities come to mind. Perhaps the entire scene was re-shot in Big Sur, but the director ultimately decided the Hawaiian footage worked best after all. Or maybe portions of footage shot in Big Sur were edited in with the Hawaiian footage to make a complete scene. Or perhaps Big Sur was used to make some publicity shots that were never intended to be in the film itself. At this point we can only speculate.
Since there is still reason to believe that something between Here and Eternity happened on Monterey County shores, we'll keep the movie on our list for now. It's only fair, because another movie on the list, 1987's Blind Date also had scenes shot in our area that never made the final cut.
But I hereby declare that our local myth, which says the famous beach kissing scene as shown on-screen was really shot in Big Sur, is officially BUSTED!