A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms
Directors: Frank Borzage
Writers: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Glazer, Laurence Stallings
Producers: Benjamin Glazer, Edward A. Blatt
Runtime: 80 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
User Rating: 4.2000 out of 5 Stars! (5 Votes)

The 1932 version of A Farewell to Arms owes as much to the shimmering house style of Paramount Pictures as it does the by Ernest Hemingway. If Hemingway purists can get past the romanticizing of the book, however, this film offers its own glossy appeal. On the Italian front in World War I, an American ambulance driver (Gary Cooper) falls in love with a nurse (Helen Hayes, before she became the official First Lady of the American The-a-tah). Cooper was a Hemingway friend in real life, and later played the hero of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls; his boyish simplicity is just right for director Frank Borzage's heartfelt approach. Image Entertainment's DVD release is a stunningly gorgeous improvement on the muddy prints of this film that had been circulating for years, a fitting tribute to the Oscar-winning cinematography of ace cameraman Charles Lang (this is the kind of lush black and white that can capture the glow from a cigarette as it plays across Cooper's darkened face--a breathtaking touch). The jaded battle scenes show the influence of the hit film version of All Quiet on the Western Front, especially in a gripping montage depicting Cooper's progress alone through the war zone. Hemingway would have none of it, of course; he once disdainfully wrote that "in the first picture version Lt. Henry deserted because he didn't get any mail and then the whole Italian Army went along, it seems, to keep him company." This is first and foremost a love story, however, and as such it succeeds beautifully, right through to the remarkably intense ending. --Robert Horton

Farewell to Arms is the second film version of Ernest Hemingway's World War One novel--and also the last film produced by David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind). Rock Hudson plays an American serving in the Italian Army during the "War to End All Wars". Jennifer Jones is his lover, a Red cross nurse. They have a torrid affair, which results in Jones' pregnancy. As the months pass, Hudson and Jones lose contact with one another, and Jones believes that Hudson has forgotten her. But a battle-weary Hudson finally makes it to Switzerland, where Jones is hospitalized. The baby is stillborn, and Jones dies shortly afterward, murmuring that her death is "a dirty trick." Filmed on a simpler scale in 1932 (with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes starring), A Farewell to Arms was blown all out of proportion to "epic" stature for the 1957 remake--so much so that its original director, John Huston, quit the film in disgust. Still, the basic love story is touchingly enacted by Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. --Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Bravely as it is produced for the most part, there is too much sentiment and not enough strength in the pictorial conception of Ernest Hemingway's novel, "A Farewell to Arms," which came to the Criterion last night. Notwithstanding the undeniable artistry of the photography, the fine recording of voices and Frank Borzage's occasional excellent directorial ideas, one misses the author's vivid descriptions and the telling dialogue between Lieutenant Frederic Henry and the Italian officers. It is Mr. Borzage rather than Mr. Hemingway who prevails in this film and the incidents frequently are unfurled in a jerky fashion. To be true it was an extremely difficult task to tackle, a rather hopeless one in fact, considering that the story is told in the first person. Possibly if any one has not read Mr. Hemingway's book, the picture will appeal as a rather interesting if tragic romance. In some of the scenes, however, the producers appear to take it for granted that the spectators have read the book.

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. Here and there Mr. Borzage has some sterling sequences, such as after Lieutenant Henry is wounded and is being carried on a stretcher to the ambulance and from the ambulance to the hospital. In some scenes he does not show the wounded man, but contents himself by depicting what the wounded man sees the faces from above him, the temporary hospital ceiling and so forth.

In this tale of love and war on the Italian front, Gary Cooper gives an earnest and splendid portrayal of Lieutenant Henry, an American, serving with the Italian ambulance corps, who falls in love with an English nurse named Catherine Barkley. Helen Hayes is admirable as Catherine and beside the tall, gaunt Mr. Cooper she looks a very tiny person. When he puts his cape over her she is almost hidden, and the contrasting figures elicited one of the few laughs from the audience. Another clever characterization is contributed by Adolphe Menjou as Major Rinaldi, the surgeon. It is unfortunate that these three players, serving the picture so well, do not have the opportunity to figure in more really dramatic interludes.

Often one is confused as to where the players are, and when Henry decides to escape from Italy to Switzerland the glimpse of his getting into a boat is much too like many another Hollywood scene. Then, too, Mr. Borzage is too partial to a deluge of rain instead of a drizzle.

The first meeting of Catherine and Henry is set forth satisfactorily, but subsequently the picture appears to gather speed, as though the director feared he could not get in all the details he wished. There is the time when Henry leaves for the front and Catherine gives him the little St. Anthony charm, and then there is the moment when Henry is the victim of a high explosive shell.

They have not omitted the discovery in the hospital of Henry's empty liquor bottles, and Helen Ferguson, another nurse and a genuine friend of Catherine's, tells the Lieutenant that she will report the matter. The coolness of the ambulance corps officer is neatly brought out here, for no sooner has Helen, who dislikes Henry, left the ward, than he goes to the head of the bed and uncovers a full bottle, out of which he takes a drink.

After Catherine goes to Switzerland to give birth to her baby, Henry writes many letters to her, but they are held up by the censor. Eventually these missives are all mailed together and when Catherine receives them she realizes what has happened and faints. --The New York Times

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Gary F. Taylor | 4 out of 5 Stars!

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 remarkable.

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.

I have encountered a number of these releases over the years, and I feel safe in saying that the best DVD presently available is the Delta release; the VHS honors go to the out-of-print Burbank Studio "Hollywood Favorites" version. But this is only in comparison with the unspeakably vile Madacy and Front Row versions, which should be avoided at all cost. Simply stated, there does not seem to be a truly first rate version available to the home market, and you may be better off looking for a late-late showing a local television channel.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Alejandra Vernon | 4 out of 5 Stars!

Based on Ernest Hemingway's semi-autobiographical novel about an ambulance driver and a nurse in WWI, this is a beautifully filmed and acted tragic romance, between tiny Helen Hayes, and tall, lanky Gary Cooper, who was 31 at the time and so handsome.
The chaos that surrounds the relationship makes all the participants (including Cooper's best friend, played by Adolphe Manjou) act in ways that are misguided, causing more misfortune, and furthering the anguish of the plot; the chemistry between the stars is wonderful and believable though, and despite its bleakness it is still a tender love story.There are hellish scenes of war, set to Wagnerian musical themes, and there is an ominous mood that prevails in every scene, even when Cooper and Menjou are out on a drunken spree.
The restoration of this film is excellent, doing justice to Charles Lang's Oscar winning cinematography; the film also won for Best Sound, as well as being nominated for Best Picture.
There have been more recent versions of this story; the 1957 "A Farewell to Arms" with Jennifer Jones and Rock Hudson (which I have not seen), and the 1996 film "In Love and War" with Sandra Bullock and Chris O'Donnell which also has a similar theme, because it was based on Hemingway's youthful WWI romance with nurse Agnes Von Kurowsky; that film suffers because of a weak connection between its actors however, and despite its age, this is a much better film.
Total running time 80 minutes.
David Kaminsky | 4 out of 5 Stars!

This is an early filmed version of one of Hemingway's earliest, most successful, and most romantic works. Gary Cooper is a rugged and handsome Frederic, and the performance beautifully captures the brooding protagonist's disillusion with the war in Italy. Helen Hayes is an electrifying Katherine, in one of her most delicately-shaded performances. Adolphe Menjeu is also wonderful, and it is his character which serves as a catalyst for the movements of the main characters. For a French actor, he makes a very lively, convincing Italian. The lighting and cinematography are evocative of German expressionism, especially during the battle sequences, and the use of music is spare and tasteful. Some of the scenes are a little jerky and poorly-lit on DVD, particularly some of the romantic scenes, but the story is captivating and the performances keep it from descending into melodrama. There is an urgency in Katherine's final cry to be held which is tremendously touching and believable.
"scotsladdie" | 4 out of 5 Stars!

Paramount finished 1932 with a high note with A FAREWELL TO ARMS. Ernest Hemingway's best-seller, his first novel to be filmed, had the rich assets of direction by Frank Borzage, a specialist in love stories with a touch of tragedy (i.e., Fox's SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927) & THREE COMRADES (M-G-M, 1938). The performances of both Helen Hayes (she wasn't quite considered the First Lady of the Theatre yet) and Gary Cooper were excellent; particularly that of Hayes; she was never more impressive in a film than she is here, as the English nurse in war-swept Italy. Cooper underacts with feeling, and also finds rewarding material in the role of an American ambulence officer caught up in a difficult love affair. The Oliver H.P. Garrett-Benjamin Glazer screenplay softened the book's ending (in which the nurse died with an unborn child-no improvement artistically but pleasing to 1932 audiences). Adolphe Menjou stands out in a supporting cast which includes Jack LaRue, Blanche Frederci and Henry Armetta. Its technical excellence garnered an AA each for sound recording (Harold C. Lewis) and for best cinematography (Charles B. Lang). Later remakes were done in 1951 (FORCE OF ARMS, Warners) and in 1957 under the original title (David O. Selznick produced, Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones starred) were both dismal failures in comparison.
John | 5 out of 5 Stars!

This 1932 version of A FAREWELL TO ARMS was one which Hemingway very vociferously hated. From his perspective, since it placed the romance between Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley over his depiction of the brutality of war, he was right. However, director Frank Borzage was after something else -- a luscious, doomed wartime romance. And in this, he succeeds, brilliantly. Aided in no small part by the beautiful teaming of Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Hemingway later became very good friends with Cooper, whom he hand-picked to star in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. They were in the process of forming a company to make ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES and THE NICK ADAMS STORIES -- Cooper to topline both -- when they died a mere seven weeks apart in 1961.
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