Catherine Barkley: Helen Hayes
Lt. Frederic Henry: Gary Cooper
Major Rinaldi: Adolphe Menjou
Helen Ferguson: Mary Philips
The Priest: Jack La Rue
Head Nurse: Blanche Frederici
Miss Van Campen: Mary Forbes
Britsh Major: Gilbert Emery
Director: Frank Borzage
Production co: Paramount
Screenplay: Benjamin Glazer, Oliver H.P. Garrett. Based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Editor: Otho Lovering
Music: Ralph Rainger, John Leipold, Bernhard Kaun, Paul Marquardt, Herman Hand, W. Franke Harling
16mm/Black & White/English
Available to Film Societies from May 15 - Jul 15 2002
Back from the front, Lieutenant Frederic Henry finds his close friend Major Rinaldi excited about the arrival of some English nurses, especially Catherine Barkley. That evening, Frederic goes to a local dive. He is drunk when the Austrians begin bombing the village and everyone rushes to safety. Concealed in an areaway, Frederic discovers that he is with a woman and, thinking she is from the dive, talks to her in a frank manner – until he sees that she is a nurse from the nearby hospital.
The next night, the Major introduces Frederic to Catherine Barkley and both laugh over the previous night’s misadventure. The two become hopelessly in love. However, Frederic goes back to the front, and the Major , jealous of the relationship, has Catherine transferred to Milan. Frederic is seriously wounded and is rushed to the hospital, where Major Rinaldi performs an operation. Regretting his jealous actions, the Major then sends his young friend to Milan to be with Catherine.
All is bliss for the couple until he is well enough to return to the front. Quietly, Catherine crosses into Switzerland to await the birth of their child; she sends him many letters, but they never get past the Major, whose jealousy is alive again. Meanwhile, the lieutenant’s letters are returned and, because he has not heard from Catherine, he finally goes to Milan and tries to locate her. He learns she is in Switzerland and gets to her soon after their baby is born dead. She, too, is near death – but they are together as news comes that the war is over.
"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. An American ambulanceman, serving in Italy during World War I, falls in love with an English nurse; he finally goes AWOL to rejoin her, only to find her carrying his child and dying of hunger and loneliness. No other director got performances like these: Cooper at his youngest and sexiest, moving from drunkenness to intoxication; moon-faced Hayes, at once a mother-figure and a lover; and Menjou as Cooper’s repressed homosexual friend, jealously coming between the lovers. And 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, fittingly set to the music of Wagner’s ‘Liebestod’." – Tony Rayns, Time Out
"Borzage’s direction was never more dramatically fluid and inventive. Not only does he set his camera in motion for dramatic effect as it traverses marble-floored hospital corridors (and even for one memorable sequence assumes a first person viewpoint), but this probing camera can also be pointedly witty while it explores the mean furnishings of Catherine’s room as she writes of their charms to her lover." – John Howard Reid
"It seems ironic that the stormy first encounter between Hollywood and Ernest Hemingway resulted in what remains probably the best film adaptation of his work. In 1932 Hemingway was in the prime of his early success: various studios had been mulling over his longer works when Paramount announced
production of A Farewell to Arms (his sixth novel), with Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper to star. Paramount suggested a revision. Hemingway flew into a fury, and the battle was on. In the meantime aided immeasurably by Hayes and Cooper and by his cameraman, Charles Lang, Frank Borzage was busy making a very beautiful and moving film. As the release date drew near, Daily Variety gave blow-by-blow coverage of the Hemingway/Paramount bout. At last Paramount conceded – sort of. The film as released, original ending intact, to critical acclaim on its roadshow tour; but by the time it went into multiple release, Hayes and Cooper were ending the film ‘happily ever after.’ Fortunately, we have been able to resurrect an original print with the Hemingway ending intact." – Douglas Edwards, Los Angeles International Film Exposition
"Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms in 1930, and this film was in fact the first Hemingway story to be filmed at all. Hemingway purists may argue that it is too romantic an interpretation and that, even if less interesting filmically, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Snows of Kilimanjaro are more authentic Hemingway. But it is still probably the best film to emerge from any Hemingway story. Although a handsome and glossy production, with big sets, plenty of extras and superb camerawork, it carefully remains non-epic in scope, thus avoiding the dreadful pitfalls that made the overblown Selznick remake such a disaster. It is ‘emotionally big’ in the way that few movies are any more, yet Borzage could get away with scenes and clichés that other directors couldn’t. Ricardo Cortez battling waves in a small rowboat to get to Greta Garbo in The Torrent was merely ludicrous – yet one accepts an almost identical scene here without question. Similarly, the very last shot – almost theatrical hoke if you like – somehow remains tender and poignant despite its size, music and sweeping camerawork. There’s just no explaining how Borzage could exploit yet control sentiment at one and the same time, yet he did it over and over again, even in such unlikely films as Flirtation Walk and China Doll.
"Gary Cooper’s performance – comparatively early in his career – is surprisingly mature and quite steals the thunder away from Helen Hayes’ theatrically efficient but mannered and self-conscious acting...
"One finds much written about Hemingway’s disgust with the ‘happy ending’ tacked on for the American release, but actually this has been somewhat exaggerated. The American ending was merely ambiguous; although the dialogue and build-up made it quite plain that Nurse Barkley had no chance of surviving, she seemed to rally as the armistice bells pealed out. Thus the fadeout was on an embrace, with Miss Hayes still alive – but it was the kind of gutless ending that allowed the audience to make up its own mind as to whether she lived or died, and was by no means the traditional happy ending. Its major flaw, cinematically, was that it forced the excision of the… extremely powerful climactic shot – which of course is in our print this evening." – Wm. K. Everson, New School for Social Research
"Frank Borzage's 1932 Farewell to Arms was the first Hemingway story to be filmed, and was heavily criticized by the author. Perhaps this contributed to the relative obscurity of the film - for years a ‘lost film,’ and one cut drastically. William K. Everson points out: ‘A Farewell to Arms was never a long film.... its original length was only 80 minutes. It was compact, tight, with no wasted footage; its story is underway immediately. When you start cutting a film that is that compact, you're asking for trouble. The reissue cut...partly to overcome then current censorship requirements, severely damaged the delicate balance of the film. When I saw it in its full form...I was quite stunned by its power and beauty....’
"Hemingway had reasons for disapproving of the film: Borzage interprets the story of a soldier (Gary Cooper) who deserts for the love of a nurse (Helen Hayes) with all the tender, passionate warmth made equally conspicuous in Hemingway's novel by its absence. But if Borzage disappointed the followers of the lost generation, he put a big smile on the face of the surrealists:" – Pacific Film Archive, 1981
"Borzage is the romantic director: whatever the material at hand, Borzage’s practice characteristically transforms it into a love story – into a meditation on the world’s vicissitudes besetting the couple. A Farewell to Arms represents this tendency at its most extreme: World War I is foregrounded only to the extent that it thwarts the history of the romance. As the lovers, Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper are unexpectedly affecting: those who associate them only with their later more celebrated roles tend to forget the intensity and the range of physical passion they were allowed to exhibit. Indeed, the film amounts to a series of such surprises. Those sensitive to studio style of the period would be interested in seeing such a highly unlikely Warner Brothers film, with Charles Lang’s Oscar-winning photography – its abundant soft-focus images strongly suggestive of the vision one might have thought Paramount had patented. The long subjective camera sequence, however, giving Cooper’s point of view as he’s carried along on a stretcher, remains striking both on its own terms as well as comparatively to other films of the period.
"Borzage occupies an exalted position in the surrealist pantheon of cineastes, placed there partly thanks to his commitment to the annihilating force of love – to a world-denying l'amour fou. A Farewell to Arms is interestingly symptomatic in this respect..." – Bill Horrigan