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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2004
Frank Borsage's 1931 film version of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" can never have the power of the novel's prose, and its not-quite-so-simple romantic idyll. I first saw the film as a twelve-year old in 1931, when it was released; but I've reread the novel many times, and have seen the film twice in recent years. I am a veteran of World War II and a retired professor of literature. So I can now see AFTA through the eyes and sensibilities of a hopefully more seasoned, if not cynical, old man. In '31, I was too young to "get" the implications of war's tragedy (even though my boyhood was saturated with stories and films about "the Great War"--"All Quiet on the Western Front--the novel & the film--What Price Glory--the play & the film--the 1927 Seventh Heaven with Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor co-starring, too young--in that earlier age of innocence--to know how babies were made). Now I am touched by Frederick Henry's (not-so)"innocent" affair with Nurse Cathrine Barkley, touched by its initial idyllic quality. But in 1931, I had not read AFTA. Hardly! Or if read would I have understood it. But decades later, I can now see the lacunae, the holes & telescopings and elidings of vital scenes in the novel, one being the couple's "alpine idyll" above Montreux, Switzerland, the row across the lake to Switzerland (which Catherine shares, but not in the film), and which may have contributed to the complications of her baby's still-birth and her own death by loss of blood. Finally, that silly Hollywood ending, with Cooper (an otherwise good performance considering the pre-Method time)picking up Catherine from her (death) bed, murmuringm "Peace! Peace!" to the skies beyond the open window,as bells toll the war's end. Too much, what follows and ends the film--those doves fluttering across that sky. I can now see why Hem was so disgusted at the film. Had it ended in the way the novel ends, we would have had a more powerful and dramatic fadeout, with Frerick Henry walking out of the hospital and back to his hotel through the rain, the rain a dominant motif that runs through the film and the novel, his mourning, his loneliness far into the rest of his life (as Hemingway himself was haunted by the real-life "Catherine," Red Cross nurse Agnes Von Kurowsky). For those many non-readers "in our time," the 1931 film, or its successors, would be salutary--if it motivates them to go to the novel...which no film can ever match.
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on June 24, 2004
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.
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on November 15, 2001
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.
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on June 1, 2003
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.
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on November 13, 2001
This Hemingway tale is set in Italy during WWI. Gary Cooper plays an American working as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army, while Helen Hayes is a British nurse. They meet under strange circumstances, fall in love, and develop an intense relationship. But the war and various complications, most of them supplied by Cooper's Italian surgeon friend Adolphe Menjou, create problems in their relationship. Both leads are quite good, with particular praise going to Helen Hayes as the outspoken nurse. Menjou is also interesting as the friend who doesn't think love can be found in the war. I've read that the photography of the film is beautiful, but the print I've seen (like many of the ones out there of this film) was quite dark, occasionally making it difficult to see the action. But the film is well made, and the ending of the movie is well played and mounted, and will stick in your mind after it is over.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon July 21, 2010
A Frank Borzage production that is based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway, this is a story of the love between ambulance driver Lieutenant Henry (Gary Cooper) and Nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes) during World War I. the story is made complex by the interference of Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou.)

"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."

This is a real tearjerker in black and white. However, it is well made and the story keeps movie. We can even feel sorry for the misguided friendship of Major Rinaldi, which contributed greatly to the disaster in the story.

I was really struck by seeing the young Helen Hayes as the first time I saw her was on Airport (1970.)

The Fountainhead ~ Gary Cooper
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on September 5, 2001
Beware! buy the laserlight copy not the Madacy one!! I bought the latter first, and it's awful. The Laserlight edition "rescues" the film into full splendor. A sensitive tale, based upon the Hemingway novel, an directed by the romantic director par-excellence, Frank Borzage. Felt performances by both stars, and an excellent supporting cast. A vintage experience.
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