A Farewell to Arms


A Farewell to Arms

Romance, Drama, War | 152 mins | Released: 1932
Director: Frank Borzage
Starring: Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Philips, Jack La Rue, Blanche Friederici, Mary Forbes
Our Rating: 7
Black & White

On the Italian front during World War I, Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army, delivers some wounded soldiers to a hospital. There he meets his friend, Italian Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), a doctor. They go out carousing but are interrupted by a bombing raid. Frederic and English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes) take shelter in the same place. The somewhat drunk Frederic makes a poor first impression.

Rinaldi persuades Frederic to go on a double romantic date with him and two nurses, Catherine and her friend Helen Ferguson (Mary Philips). However, Rinaldi becomes annoyed when Frederic prefers Catherine, the woman the major had chosen for himself. Away by themselves, Frederic learns that she was engaged to a soldier who was killed in battle. In the darkness, he romantically seduces her, over her half-hearted resistance, and is surprised to discover she is a virgin.

Their romantic relationship (forbidden by army regulation) is discovered. At Rinaldi’s suggestion, Catherine is transferred to Milan. When Frederick is wounded by artillery, he finds himself in the hospital where Catherine now works. They continue their affair until he is sent back to the war. Now pregnant, Catherine runs away to Switzerland, but her many letters to her beloved sweetheart/lover are intercepted by Rinaldi, who feels he needs to rescue his friend from the romantic entanglement. Meanwhile, Frederic’s letters to her are sent to the hospital which she has abandoned.

After a time, Frederic cannot stand being away from Catherine any longer. He deserts his post and heads out in search of her. Returning first to the hospital in Milan, he attempts to convince the reluctant Ferguson to reveal Catherine’s whereabouts to him. Displaying animosity toward Frederic, all she reveals finally is that Catherine has left and is pregnant with Frederic’s child. Rinaldi visits him at the hotel where he is hiding, and, upon hearing of Catherine’s pregnancy, out of remorse for having interfered with their correspondence, tells Frederic where she is living. He rows across a lake to her. Meanwhile, Catherine is delighted when she is told she has finally received some mail, but faints when she is given all of her romantic love letters, marked “Return to Sender”. She is taken to the hospital, where her child is delivered stillborn. She herself is in grave danger. Frederic arrives, and just as an armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary is announced, Catherine tragically dies, with him at her side.

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Movie Notes:

A Farewell to Arms is a 1932 American romance drama film directed by Frank Borzage and starring Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, and Adolphe Menjou.

Based on the 1929 semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, with a screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Benjamin Glazer, the film is about a romantic love affair between an American ambulance driver and an English nurse in Italy during World War I.

The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Art Direction.

The original Broadway play starred Glenn Anders and Elissa Landi.

In his review in The New York Times, Mordaunt Hall wrote, “There is too much sentiment and not enough strength in the pictorial conception of Ernest Hemingway’s novel … the film account skips too quickly from one episode to another and the hardships and other experiences of Lieutenant Henry are passed over too abruptly, being suggested rather than told … Gary Cooper gives an earnest and splendid portrayal [and] Helen Hayes is admirable as Catherine … another clever characterization is contributed by Adolphe Menjou … it is unfortunate that these three players, serving the picture so well, do not have the opportunity to figure in more really dramatic interludes.”

Dan Callahan of Slant Magazine notes, “Hemingway … was grandly contemptuous of Frank Borzage’s version of A Farewell to Arms … but time has been kind to the film. It launders out the writer’s … pessimism and replaces it with a testament to the eternal love between a couple.”

Time Out London calls it “not only the best film version of a Hemingway novel, but also one of the most thrilling visions of the power of sexual love that even Borzage ever made … no other director created images like these, using light and movement like brushstrokes, integrating naturalism and a daring expressionism in the same shot. This is romantic melodrama raised to its highest degree.”

Channel 4 describes it as “an excellent adaptation … the two leads are ideal and irresistible here, particularly a reliably sensitive Cooper, who milks his everyman appeal to great effect.”

Censorship problems arose from early versions of the script, which included phases of Catherine’s actual childbirth and references to labor pains, gas, her groaning and hemorrhaging. After these were removed, the MPPDA approved the script, and even issued a certificate for re-release in 1938 when the censorship rules were more strictly enforced. Still, the film was rejected in British Columbia and in Australia, where Hemingway’s book was also banned.

Ruth Chatterton, Claudette Colbert and Eleanor Boardman were announced to play the role of Catherine Barkley before Helen Hayes was cast. Boardman shot some scenes, which were all reshot, but some of her footage did make it into The House That Shadows Built (1931).

Some references list the play by Laurence Stallings as an uncredited source for the movie. It opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 22 September 1930 and had 24 performances. The opening night cast included Glenn Anders, Joe Downing, Jack La Rue (also in the film) and Elissa Landi.

To the modern discerning eye, the use of miniatures is apparent in some scenes. If one looks very closely at the first scene, ambulance trucks driving up a winding mountain road will be noted to be well crafted miniatures.

Remade with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, A Farewell to Arms (1957) and as a TV miniseries with George Hamilton and Vanessa Redgrave, A Farewell to Arms (1966).

Though in the novel the character of Catherine Barkley is described as very tall, actress Helen Hayes was a mere five feet tall.

“Lux Radio Theater” broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on April 5, 1937 with Jack La Rue reprising his film role.

“The Screen Guild Theater” broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on April 10, 1944 with Gary Cooper reprising his film role.

Fredric March was originally set to play the lead, but when he discovered that director John Cromwell was being replaced by Frank Borzage, he refused to do the picture. The part was then given to Gary Cooper.

Ernest Hemingway hated this interpretation of his novel, as he felt it was overly romantic. That didn’t stop him, however, from becoming lifelong friends with Gary Cooper, who he met several years later. In fact, it was Hemingway who would insist that Cooper be cast in the lead of the adaptation of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) 11 years later. However, the two made a point of never discussing this film.

This was the first Ernest Hemingway novel to be turned into a film.

Helen Hayes later admitted in one of her autobiographies that she had a huge crush on Gary Cooper.

The Production Code was in place when the film was re-released in 1938. Consequently, 12 minutes of footage had to be excised for it to meet code standards. Luckily, producer David O. Selznick had acquired an original negative, as he was so keen to buy the remake rights, so the original cut has been preserved (Selznick finally acquired the rights in 1955, making his own version two years later with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones).

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for another two:
Academy Award for Best Picture (nominee)
Academy Award for Best Art Direction (nominee)
Academy Award for Best Cinematography (winner)
Academy Award for Sound – Franklin Hansen (winner)