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This is a magnificent picture, photographed sublimely by Charles Lang (who
deservedly won an Oscar). Cooper and Hayes are brilliant as the World War
One lovers - and the ending will bring you to tears. How wonderful to see
Coop so vulnerable and so in love, and Hayes just shines from the screen
like a diamond.
This film is very under-rated. The camerawork is ground-breaking and original - look for the shot when Hayes kisses Cooper as he is wheeled into his hospital room. Amazing. I really love this film.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS (Paramount, 1932), directed by Frank Borzage, is the
first, so far, of three screen adaptations to Ernest Hemingway's
classic 1930 novel. It is a tender love story set against the
background of the Great War (World War I) involving two young people,
Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), an American lieutenant and ambulance
driver in the Italian unit, and Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), a war
nurse, who are kept apart by Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), Frederic's
Italian friend, who not only loves Catherine, but doesn't want him to
"lose his head over a woman."
In the supporting cast are Mary Phillips (Helen Ferguson, a nurse and Catherine closest friend who objects to her continued romance with the young American); Jack LaRue (the soft-spoken Italian priest); and Blanche Frederici (the stern head nurse). Adolphe Menjou offers fine characterization of an Italian, convincing, right down to his spoken dialect.
A highly popular war drama in its day, which concentrates more on the relationship between a lieutenant and a nurse than soldiers on the battlefield, A FAREWELL TO ARMS earned itself an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture of 1932-33, but none for its acting. Director Borzage brings out the tenderness and simplicity of the young couple in love as he had done many times during his career, especially those starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell over at Fox Studios. In fact, had Hemingway sold his novel to Fox, A FAREWELL TO ARMS would definitely have been awarded to the popular Gaynor and Farrell team under Borzage's direction. Yet similarities between Gaynor and Farrell and Hayes and Cooper go by the way of their sizes. Both Gaynor and Hayes were short in appearance while Cooper and Farrell stood very tall, especially opposite their shorter leading ladies. Because of the sensitivity and care as enacted by the central characters, it goes without saying that Hayes and Cooper appear to be far better suited than Gaynor and Farrell had they been offered this assignment. At first glance, Cooper gives the impression of being an odd choice for playing Fredric Henry, considering solid actors as Fredric March or Clark Gable (on loan from MGM) might have made a go of this. For the finished product, the film conveys Cooper to be properly cast after all, ranking this as one of his most finer performances of his career.
The pace to the story is occasionally slow, with the early portions lacking in underscoring, but does get better during its second half. Other than the character study and battle scenes, the movie offers some fine bonuses in ways of effective camera technique, including the hospital scene where the injured Frederic Henry is being wheeled in the hospital from a platform table where the camera assumes the place of the character, taking focus as to what directly looking down and talking into the camera range as Frederic answers the questions. This is concluded with an extreme close up of Catherine's face with only her right eye in full focus into the camera as she kisses and talks to her wounded soldier. The camera taking the place of the character technique would be used memorably more than a decade later in the "film noir" mysteries, LADY IN THE LAKE (MGM, 1946) and DARK PASSAGE (WB, 1947). While these films have used this method to an extent to most of the story, A FAREWELL TO ARMS presents this technique briefly but effectively.
Remade twice during the 1950s, first as FORCE OF ARMS (Warner Brothers, 1950) starring William Holden and Nancy Olson, and later under its original title in 1957 for 20th Century-Fox starring Jennifer Jones and Rock Hudson, the third, being the better known of the earlier two, might have surpassed the original had it not been so awkward, overlong (two and-a-half hours) and overblown. The original 1932 production, eliminating many key elements from the novel, is better acted and not long enough to cause any viewer lose interest. Because of the remakes in the 1950s, the 1932 original was taken out of circulation, with availability for viewing the original very hard to obtain, and chances of it never to be seen or heard about again. Fortunately, prints did survive, leaving chances of A FAREWELL TO ARMS to surface again. Finally, as early as 1981, the initial version to A FAREWELL TO ARMS made its long awaited rebirth, on public television, initially as part of its weekly SPROCKETS series. Ever since then, television and later public domain video prints presented the original Hemingway drama 10 minutes shorter to its original 90 minutes of screen time, along with occasional poor picture quality, and even worse, the elimination of the original opening and closing credits taken from reissue prints with newer opening title cards and the substitution of the Paramount logo with that of a 1950s Warner Brothers shield, and the elimination of the closing casting credits. When A FAREWELL TO ARMS premiered on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, February 15, 2004, as part of the cable channel's annual 31 days of Oscar, it became another long-awaited event. Aside from having it shown in its original 90 minute presentation, the Paramount logo that opens and closes the movie has been restored along with the closing cast list, as originally played in theaters back in 1932.
Has A FAREWELL TO ARMS stood the test of time? Chances are with its newly restored and clearer picture quality presentation currently available on TCM, it may stir up much more interest than the latter remakes. It also gives an incite look to the early film career of famous stage actress Helen Hayes (1900-1993) at her peak. As it stands, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, a poignant love story, which may not stir up as many tears and sobs as it once did way back when, it is, however, a worthy novel to screen offering, ranking this the first, and best, of two remakes combined. (****)
When this version of A Farewell to Arms came out, Ernest Hemingway
hated this film. They turned his novel and put too much emphasis on the
romance angle. When Papa Hemingway said that he obviously did not know
Hollywood well at all. If he did just knowing Frank Borzage directed
this film should have told him something. Borzage did a whole slew of
tender romantic stories in the Thirties like Three Comrades, The Mortal
Storm, stuff like that. A Farewell to Arms is definitely in keeping
with that tradition.
The one thing that Hemingway did like was the casting of Gary Cooper as the hero Fredric Henry. He and Coop became fast friends right up to when they both died in 1961. He saw in Cooper the ideal Hemingway hero and when Paramount acquired the rights to For Whom the Bells Toll, Hemingway insisted it be done with Cooper or nobody.
Cooper and Helen Hayes made a tender romantic couple in the Borzage tradition, probably more Borzage than Hemingway. But Adolph Zukor and Paramount also knew what sold movie tickets and Paramount was having a lot of financial troubles at this time. The studio nearly went under during the Depression. But Paramount's saviors turned out to be Bing Crosby, Mae West, and Cecil B. DeMille who returned to the studio he helped found.
Helen Hayes made several good films in the early thirties, this one and the one she won an Oscar for, The Sins of Madelon Claudet. But she never became a movie box office draw so she returned to the Broadway stage where she reigned as a Queen.
Adolphe Menjou replete with Italian accent plays Cooper's friend and romantic rival, Major Rinaldi. Menjou was great at playing both American and continental types. Soon he would sign a long term contract with MGM and gain his greatest roles during the sound era.
Hemingway purists might shun A Farewell to Arms, but those who love their screen romances, soggier the better will rave about this film.
The works of Ernest Hemingway have not always translated well to the
cinema. The Gary Cooper/Ingrid Bergman "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and
David O. Selznick's version of "A Farewell to Arms", although
attractively photographed, are two of the dullest and most slow-moving
films ever committed to celluloid. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is
slightly better, but still by no means as good as it should be, given
its stellar cast. Howard Hawks's version of "To Have and Have Not" is a
good film, but that is probably because its plot has very little to do
with that of the novel on which it is supposedly based.
The 1932 version of "A Farewell to Arms" was the first time a film had been based on one of Hemingway's works, and there is an obvious difference between it and the 1957 remake; it is only slightly more than half the length, at 80 minutes as opposed to 152. Over the quarter-century between the dates of the two films there had been a change in the way Hemingway was seen. In 1932 he was still an up-and-coming young author; by 1957, although he was still alive and only in his late fifties, he had achieved the status of Great American Novelist, and the film that was made in that year suffers from an over-reverential attitude to his work, treating it like a solemn classical text that needed an equally solemn cinematic treatment to do it justice.
The film tells the story of the romance between Frederick, an American volunteer serving with the Italian Army as an ambulance driver, and Catherine, a nurse with the British Red Cross. Frederick deserts and crosses the border into neutral Switzerland, to be with Catherine, whom he has secretly married and who is pregnant.
It has been pointed out that the moral of the film is precisely the opposite of that of "Casablanca". In that film Rick and Ilsa give up their chance of happiness together because "the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world". What matters is the war, and the Allied struggle for victory. In "A Farewell to Arms", however, the moral is that the personal happiness of Frederick and Catherine matters more than the great historical events from which they are escaping. This reversal in emphasis between the two films probably reflects a reversal in public attitudes which took place in the intervening decade between 1932 and 1942. In 1932, a year before Hitler came to power, there was a sense of disillusionment with war, even in those countries which had finished on the winning side in 1914-18; the First World War was widely seen as senseless slaughter. Ten years later, the rise of Nazism and the outbreak of the Second World War had changed attitudes so that it was once again fashionable to talk about a "just war" against evil. (By 1957, during the Cold War, the pendulum had partially swung back in the opposite direction; Selznick's film might have been a flop, but there were some very good anti-war films from that period, such as Kubrick's "Paths of Glory").
Seen from a modern perspective, the film looks and sounds very dated. The sound quality is poor and the action looks jerky. These problems were, of course, common to most films from the early thirties, the very dawn of the sound picture era. (It is remarkable how quickly those problems were overcome, when one compares the likes of "A Farewell to Arms" with, say, "Gone with the Wind" from only seven years later). In some respects, however, the director Frank Borzage was able to turn the technical limitations of the period to his advantage. Large-scale realistic battle sequences would not have been possible at this time, but Borzage nevertheless wanted to give some idea of the horror of war in order to show what Frederick is fleeing from. In order to do this he resorts to a wordless montage sequence composed of brief shots of the battle, backed by some highly dramatic music. The result is a sort of cinematic equivalent of Impressionism, serving to give as vivid an impression of warfare as a more detailed picture ever could. (This sequence was probably the reason the film won the Oscar for "Best Cinematography").
The film is better acted than the 1957 remake. Helen Hayes was less glamorous than Jennifer Jones, and has an even less convincing British accent, but makes a much livelier and more convincing Catherine. Gary Cooper's Frederick is similarly far more animated than Rock Hudson's stony-faced interpretation of the role, and he receives good support from Adolphe Menjou as Frederick's comrade Major Rinaldi. The action is better paced and the film, even if it looks primitive by today's standards, nevertheless has a vigour lacking from many more polished films from more recent times. 7/10
The 1932 film version of Ernest Hemmingway's A FAREWELL TO ARMS will
never challenge the likes of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT--but while
it fails to capture the horrors of World War I it is remarkably
effective at capturing the novel's sparse and unyielding prose. A good
deal of the credit goes to writers Garrett and Glaizer and director
Borzage--but the real interest here is not so much in the cinematic
interpretation of the Hemmingway novel as it is in the cast, which is
Actress Helen Hayes was already among the leading lights of the New York stage when she was lured to Hollywood for a handful of films in the early 1930s--and it is easy to see what all the fuss was about. Plaintive beauty aside, unlike most stage and screen actors of the era she is completely unaffected in her performance and proves more than powerful enough to overcome the more melodramatic moments of the script. She is costarred with Gary Cooper in one of his earliest leading roles, and while the pairing is unexpected, it is also unexpectedly good: they have tremendous screen chemistry, and in spite of the film's dated approach they easily draw you into this story of an ill-fated wartime romance between a nurse and an ambulance driver.
The film is also well supplied with a solid supporting cast that includes Adolphe Menjou, Jack La Rue, and Mary Philips, and while clearly filmed on a slim budget--something most obvious in the battlefront sequences--the camera work is remarkably good. Unfortunately, all this counts for nothing unless you can find a print of the film that you can stand to watch. It is sad but true: the 1932 A FAREWELL TO ARMS seems to have fallen into public domain, and the result is a host of DVD and VHS releases that range from the merely adequate to the incredibly dire.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
A gesture...a look...the inflection in a voice. An ambulance going up a mountain... a dead soldier...rain pouring down. "Farewell to Arms" evokes emotions without being overly dramatic. It is based based on the Ernest Hemingway novel with the same title. It sets the scene for the story with images from the camera. Make no mistake, this is a love story, not a war movie. It is a love story set in the midst of World War I and it takes place in Italy and Switzerland. Not only do the images set the scene for this film but the actors make a love story unfold in the midst of the terrible taking place. Helen Hayes is a stand out in her role as the nurse from Great Britain. Gary Cooper has never been more handsome and charming as an American Ambulance driver. Their romance and struggle to be together are poignant and convincing. Gary Cooper has a marvelous friendship with a doctor played by Adolphe Menjou and some touching scenes with a priest portrayed by Jack Larue. Time has been kind to this movie which goes beyond era and place and develops its characters and story well enough so that they transcend the 1932 style of making films and the WWI setting to shine in a classic movie for any age. This movie was directed by Frank Bozarge and it won a well deserved Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
There's World War I going and Lieutenant Frederick Henry is fighting for his life.The war becomes secondary when he meets and falls in love with nurse Catherine Barkley.Having big emotions for another person during the war is dangerous since there's the chance of losing that person.They're both afraid.He may not admit that, but they're both afraid.Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms (1932) is based on Ernest Hemingway's novel.It won two Academy Awards from best cinematography (Charles Lang) and best sound, recording (Franklin Hansen).It would have deserved awards for acting, as well.The charismatic Gary Cooper and the admirable Helen Hayes do a fantastic job as the leading couple.Then there's also the great Adolphe Menjou as Major Rinaldi.The dialogue is brilliant.Lots of lovely words are spoken about love.I know there are many people who would say a movie from 75 years back is too old for them.I'd say that's their lost.A Farewell to Arms offers great feelings from the first meeting till the tragic ending.
A Farewell to Arms features the expected good performances from Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, and Adolphe Menjou. For its time, it also features impressive sets. The dialogue also does justice to its source material, the Hemingway novel of the same name. This movie must've been appreciated much more at the time of its release, given the imminence of war sentiment and Hitler's rising power in Germany. All in all, a very good, though not great film, 7/10.
Watch for some James Dean look-alike glances in this black and white movie.
It also plays a lot like "The English Patient", but not as boring. The
continual bombings and chaos of the fighting was very realistic, but it
didn't move the plot along as well as it might have.
Helen Hayes as the love interest does a delightful job, but it's hard not to judge this picture by the technical improvements of today's cinematographers. I too have either outgrown Hemingway, or a lot of his dialogue was cut. I suggest you go back and give the book a read, and decide for yourself. I have promised to return and see the movie again, afterwards. Gary Cooper was a really great-looking, and good acting guy.....and I've never appreciated him before so much. He had a lot of stage business that made him appear quite natural.
Adolph Menjou as the fun-loving captain did an admirable job, as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The opening narrative: "Disaster as well as victory is written for
every nation on the record of the World War, but high on the rolls of
glory two names are inscribed the Marne and the Piave." Of course,
the Marne refers to the Western front, and the Piave refers to the
Italian, wherein lies this movie's focus. "A Farewell to Arms" is based
upon the semi-autobiographical novel of Ernest Hemingway's experiences
when he served as an ambulance driver for the Italians who fought the
Austrians and Hungarians in World War I. In the opening sequence we see
a dead soldier draped with the Alpine background. Then we observe
several Italian ambulances moving along the winding mountains away from
the battlefield. Our hero Lt. ("Tenente" in Italian) Frederic Henry
(Gary Cooper) casually reports to Headquarters just as young and
attractive English nurse Molly is being rebuked and dismissed for
getting pregnant. She had fallen in love with a soldier; "Disgracing
the uniform we all wear," proclaims the head nurse. Regulations are
Lt. Henry is good friends with Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), who is also a surgeon. The two men drink and visit brothels together. Rinaldi happens to like English Nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), but early on, after she is introduced to Henry, she and the young lieutenant are greatly attracted to each other. They become lovers right away and just before Henry has to return to the front. Meanwhile Rinaldi uses his influence to have Barkley transferred to Milan. Just before the shelling begins on the battlefront, we see the Italian soldiers eating their rations of bread, cheese, and pasta . . . and even wine. While the men are eating an Austrian shell scores a direct hit, wounding Henry in the right knee and foot. Henry is removed to the military hospital in Milan where Barkley is stationed. Their love affair resumes, but because the Italian Chaplain (Jack La Rue) knows that they are not married, he conducts a proxy marriage (not in the book, however). Later the hospital head nurse, after catching Henry with his hidden liquor bottles under the mattress, reports him to authorities who deem him healthy enough to revisit the front. While Henry is thus away, Rinaldi, who has censorship authority, censures the letters of both Barkley and Henry because he feels that it is wrong for the lieutenant to "lose his head over a woman." The soldier and the nurse lose contact.
Meanwhile a great Austrian and German offensive has succeeded in breaking through the Italian defensive line at Caporetto (October 1917), and the Italians are in retreat. They are constantly blasted with bombs and raked with aerial machine gun fire. Displeased with the Italian high command (perhaps not without reason), Frederic Henry deserts the army. His main goal is to link up with Catherine somehow. He meets up with Catherine's best friend, Nurse Helen Ferguson (Mary Philips) and is genuinely surprised when she unenthusiastically tells him that Catherine is pregnant. But Frederic still does not know where she is located. And the Italian police (carabinieri) are still searching for him. Events are fast-forwarded because a newspaper headline reads, "Italian Armies Successful in Great Piave Offensive." (This event occurred in June 1918.)
Eventually Henry meets up with Major Rinaldi, who relents and shows compassion when Henry tells him that Catherine is with child. He gives Henry Catherine's location (Brissago, Switzerland) and cash to help him. Time is fast-forwarded to November 1918, as a newspaper headline now reads, "L'Austria Capitola" ("Austria Capitulates"). Now the scene inter-cuts with Catherine's most difficult childbirth event in the Swiss hospital. Her baby boy is stillborn, and her health is failing. Soaked with rain Frederic arrives in the hospital in time to share some words with Catherine. Their last moments are tender ones. He lifts her dead body as doves fly and the church bells ring, proclaiming that the Armistice has ended the Great War. "Peace," Frederic utters.
Hemingway's novel actually ends during the middle of 1918, at the height of the great German offensives on the Western front. And in the novel Frederic Henry dejectedly leaves the Swiss hospital and walks out into the rain. All in all, the movie is a very successful tearjerker, and is better than the 1957 version, although the latter's cinematography is at a high level, and even though Cooper is over a foot taller than the diminutive Hayes. Director Frank Borzage, who began filming in 1913, was the first person in Hollywood history to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (Seventh Heaven, 1929). He won again in 1931 for "Bad Girl." Borzage's version of "A Farewell to Arms" belongs among the top 15 or 20 movies of 1932 even though his adaptation is loose. His well-known trademark was in identifying the feelings of young lovers in the face of intense trial, as in wartime. His montages here, like the retreat from Caporetto and Henry's twenty mile-trek to Switzerland through storms, are both expertly done. Charles Lang won the Academy Award for Cinematography. The acting is fine all the way around although Hayes sometimes overacts. Both Adolphe Menjou and Jack La Rue, who have French surnames, do very well acting as Italians. Menjou as Rinaldi is the worldly one; La Rue as the priest prays for the end of suffering and war's end. Gary Cooper was destined to win the Academy Award for Best Actor twice: Sergeant York (1940) and High Noon (1952).
(PS: I also reviewed the 1957 version of "A Farewell to Arms" for IMDb on 2 April 2014.)
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