DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A FAREWELL TO ARMS (director: Frank Borzage; screenwriters: Oliver H.P. Garret/Benjamin Glazer/based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway; cinematographer: Charles Lang; editor: Otho Lovering; music: Herman Hand; cast: Helen Hayes (Catherine Barkley), Gary Cooper (Lt. Frederick Henry), Adolphe Menjou (Captain Rinaldi), Mary Phillips (Helen Ferguson), Jack La Rue (The Priest), Blanche Friderici (Head Nurse), Mary Forbes (Miss Van Campen), Gilbert Emery (British Major), Henry Armetta (Bonnello); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Borzage; Paramount; 1932)

 
"Noted by many as the best film version of a Hemingway novel."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Noted by many as the best film version of a Hemingway novel, though bogged down with too much sentimentality for my sensibilities. Its premise is that a short relationship (a one-night stand) between the characters played by Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes impresses them so much that it leaves them both feeling an intense desire for each other that points out the power of sexual love as something unforgettable. Director Frank Borzage ("Moonrise"/"The Mortal Storm"/"The Spanish Main") gets great performances from his leads and does a great job filming the war battleground scenes with an eerie expressionist visualization. It plays to the music of Wagner's 'Liebestod'. The romantic war drama was well-received in its time, but has become dated. 

Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) is a former architecture student from America who was studying in Italy, but during World War I became a lieutenant ambulance driver in the Italian army as an adventurous lark. On leave, he hangs with his pal Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) drinking and chasing skirts. When Frederic meets an English nurse, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), whose fiancé was killed in the war, they both fall in love at first sight. The smug Rinaldi, never getting over his desire to be with Catherine, who he spotted first, jealously has her transferred to Milan. When Frederic is wounded at the front, Rinaldi operates and sends him to Milan to recuperate. A priest marries Frederic to Catherine, but his hospital stay ends when Catherine's supposed friend and fellow nurse (Mary Phillips) discovers he's been drinking liquor and reports him to the head nurse who sends him back to the front.

The pregnant Catherine goes to Brissago, Switzerland to wait for Frederic. Though they write to each other, the repressed Rinaldi censors their letters and they are returned to the sender. Frederic is worried that he hasn't heard from Catherine and goes AWOL. Since he doesn't know her location, Frederic advertises for her to meet him in a hotel. Instead Rinaldi shows up, and only when he's convinced his pal is really in love gives him Catherine's address. When Frederic finally reaches a heartsick Catherine, she undergoes an emergency caesarean section. The child is stillborn, and the weakened Catherine is dying as she spends her final moments with Frederic. Outside one can hear the exultant sounds of the armistice celebration.

The film contrasts how the insanity of war relates to the fragile nature of a romantic wartime relationship, where the love-stricken soldier places his love for a woman above his military duty.

Cooper gives one of his better performances, while Hayes gives her usual great performance.

REVIEWED ON 10/4/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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