Sunday, April 4, 2021

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

I'm not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps that colors my view of the 1932 adaptation of his novel A Farewell to Arms. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 6:15 PM, so you have a chance to watch and judge for yourself.

Gary Cooper plays Lt. Frederic Henry, an American who decided he was going to go off and have some adventure by taking part in World War I on the Italian front as an ambulance driver. He's stationed with Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), a surgeon who has fallen a bit for one of the British nurses, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), but not anywhere near the opint of it being serious.

Frederic meets Catherine, and sure enough the two fall in love, even though both of them know how forbidden this is. Catherine's best friend Ferguson (Mary Phillips) isn't so sure about the romance. Eventually, Catherine is assigned to a hospital in Milan, well behind the lines, so that she won't be able to see Frederic any more.

Frederic and his crew go on a mission that takes them close to the front lines, where they're going to have to hunker down in a basement while the Austrians are dropping bombs. One of those boms hits close enough to the house Frederic is in, resulting in substantial leg injuries. He gets sent to the hospital in... Milan. Gee, who could have guessed?

So of course Frederic and Catherine meet again, and they get secretly married by a priest, something which as I mentioned before is highly against regulations. Now being married, they can actually have sex, which serves here to facilitate the plot point of Catherine getting pregnant, because you didn't think Frederic was going to get pregnant, did you? Frederic is malingering and a nurse, finding all the alcohol he's been imbibing, sends Frederic back to the front. Catherine goes off to Switzerland to have the baby.

Catherine writes to Frederic, but Rinaldi, in a total dick move, intercepts the letters and, instead of censoring them, has them returned to sender without Frederic ever knowing Catherine has been writing him! Frederic, meanwhile, has been writing to the hospital in Milan, but of course Catherine is no longer there, and didn't leave a forwarding address. Eventually Frederic decides he's going to resort to desertion to find Catherine, with tragic results.

Apparently there's more going on in Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms than there is in this movie, which might explain why the 1957 film version runs almost two and a half hours. This one is a shade under 90 minutes, but even that feels long since the movie is overly talky. Cooper and Hayes do about as well as you can expect with the material, but the script certainly doesn't help them. Hayes, in particular, is not well served by the finale.

Still, A Farewell to Arms is the sort of movie you'll probably want to check out for yourself.

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