A Farewell to Arms
Release Year: 1932
Director: Frank Borzage
Writers: Benjamin Glazer (screenplay), Oliver H.P. Garrett (screenplay), Laurence Stallings (uncredited – adapted stage play), Ernest Hemingway (based on his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms)
Starring: Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Phillips, Jack La Rue, Blanche Friderici, Mary Forbes, Gilbert Emery
Rating: Won 2 Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Sound. Nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Art Direction.
Sunday Classic #275, week 39 2019
An American ambulance driver and an English nurse fall in love in Italy during World War I.
In 1932 when this pre-code Hollywood film was released, Ernest Hemingway was a big new name in American literature. His pessimistic war novel A Farewell to Arms had been published only three years prior and was partly inspired by his own experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. Frank Borzage (7th Heaven, 1927) cut out much of Hemingway’s pessimism and turned the film into a romance with the war as merely a backdrop. This has perhaps made the film stand the test of time better as the stoy of a couple and their powerful love for each other, rather than a bleak commentary on war. Because, the film is not particularly great; especially in the first half, the story jumps rather abruptly from scene to scene and it does not feel like it really finds its groove until the two lovers come together. A young Cooper (Meet John Doe, 1941) is great as the handsome American soldier, but has a counterpart in Hayes (Airport, 1970) who doesn’t quite live up to him. She is good, but never really convinces as an English nurse. Menjou (Paths of Glory, 1957), on the other, is absolutely charming as the Italian military surgeon. Apart from one scene, there is no real sense of the war, it is really for the romance you should watch the film. A stirring romance with good performances in the midst of the melancholy and pointlessness of war, but in a somewhat mediocre film. Recommended.
Ernest Hemingway hated this adaptation of his novel as he felt it was much too romantic. It didn’t stop him and Gary Cooper from becoming friends when they met some years later, although they made a point of the never discussing this film. It was Hemingway who years later recommended Gary Cooper for the lead in the adaptation of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).
Fredric March was originally cast to play the lead, but dropped out when the original director, John Cromwell, was replaced by Frank Borzage.
Ruth Chatterton, Claudette Colbert, and Eleanor Boardman were all announced for the role of Catherine Barkley but it eventually went to Helen Hayes. Many at the time remarked that she was miscast for the part of an English nurse.
Picture Copyright: UIP