Friday, October 15, 2010

A Farewell to Arms (1932) picspam

As usual, I started off making a few caps to illustrate my review and went crazy. Warning: spoilers within.

Director Frank Borzage leaves out star Gary Cooper's face in many scenes, including a fairly long point of view sequence. I like this screen cap because it shows how skinny Coop's legs were.

I watched A Farewell to Arms fairly early in my Gary Cooper fandom. The verdict: young Gary Cooper is brain-meltingly attractive.




This scene introduces the playful relationship between Renaldi (Adolphe Menjou) and Lt. Henry. Renaldi calls him "baby" all the time which has the unintended effect of making him sound like a 1970s record producer.

Menjou is really wonderful in his role. He had been one of the biggest stars on Paramount's lot until Cooper came along, which makes the whole friendship/jealousy theme in the movie a bit more interesting, I think. Also, I love how awkwardly tall Gary Cooper must have been to act with.




Henry and Renaldi enjoy one of the "new girls" at Villa Rosa, the town brothel. Borzage never shows us any more of the girl or the brothel than this framing, which sets up the "meet cute" in the next scene. In the novel, Hemingway also describes the Villa Rosa obliquely. Henry's numerous interactions with prostitutes are summed up in a single long paragraph of verbal pastiche with snippets of dialogue and snatches of description. This book works so well as a film in part because paragraphs like that read almost like a screenplay description of a montage.

An air raid breaks up the fun at the Villa Rosa. Henry goes to a shelter and grabs the nearest naked foot he sees, thinking it must belong to the "new girl." In a wonderful reverse-Cinderella moment, the shoe doesn't fit, and Henry is embarrassed to find himself with English nurse, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes). None of this beautiful nonsense is in the book, but I like it because it's just so movie-ish, and because it introduces the romance in a way that's less jarring than the way it's presented in the book, where the lovers meet and immediately begin discussing the most intimate details of their lives.

"We seem to be fated to run into one another in the dark," Catherine says, in one of the screenplay's cheesiest attempts to improve on Hemingway's spare and elegant dialogue. Luckily, most of the dialogue in the film is cribbed right from the book. The film deservedly won the Oscar for cinematography. These gorgeous and romantic night scenes are part of the reason. In the novel, the meetings in the garden are awkward, closely supervised, but in the movie the lovers are free to have sex twenty minutes after they've been introduced.

I forgot my review-based excuse for making this screen cap.

This is one of the most romantic scenes in the book, and in the movie it's played in a wonderfully low-key fashion that mirrors the book. Henry is sent to the front, but he turns his ambulance back to town so that he can say good bye to Catherine. "I really wish I could kiss you, right now."

"I got blown up eating cheese," Lt. Henry answers when asked if he did anything heroic to get his war wounds. That's probably my favorite line in all of Hemingway. It's nice that the filmakers left in details like the ambulance drivers eating cold spaghetti with their fingers. In the 1950s version of the film, Lt. Henry is a lot more dashing and heroic in the battle scenes. There's nothing about cheese in the dialogue of that version.

Henry is sent to Milan, where Catherine is working as a nurse in a new hospital. This is the point in the book where Catherine and Henry have sex for the first time, after which they decide they are married, though they are not. I'm not sure why the filmmakers moved the sex scene to the beginning of the story. Although the code was not enforced at the time, A Farewell to Arms nearly failed to get a release because of the frankly sexual nature of the relationship. My guess is that the producers thought sex occuring in a fit of passion would seem more palatable to the censors than rather than a pre-meditated encounter. At any rate, this scene is still pretty hot.

Another invention for the movie: Catherine and Lt. Henry are secretly married by the priest. While they do talk as if they are married, and the priest does visit the lieutenant in the hospital, in the book they never marry.

The couple on their "wedding night." This scene is peppered with bizarre, supposedly sexy dialogue about castor oil. Borzage's camera cuts away to the search lights on the balcony, a detail taken right from the book.

Lt. Henry is sent back to the front but spends his last night in Milan with Catherine, in the classiest hotel they can find. "Darling, I wish we could do something truly sinful," Catherine opines, "but everything we do feel so innocent."
"I hate the rain. Sometimes I see me dead in it." This is one of Hemingway's most difficult lines of dialogue, I think. It's very difficult to make a statement like that and not seem completely overwrought. Hayes does a wonderful job of making Catherine seem a touch neurotic, but not as crazy or annoying as she could easily become in the hands of the wrong actor (e.g. Jennifer Jones in the 1950s remake).



The good-bye in the hotel is one of the most romantic and sad moments in the movie. Gary Cooper's height comes into play again as he picks her up, kisses her and carries her a few feet to the chair.
She looks so small when he puts her down. I think it's the simple, every day details that make this scene so powerful, the way one remembers every bitter sweet second of a parting like this. In a way, for me as a viewer, it's the end of the story because, after this moment, the movie goes off the rails, covering five chapters in five minutes of montage and, most painfully, cutting Catherine and Henry's brief period of happiness in Switzerland.


Some of the expressionistic images from Borzage's montage which collapses a great deal of the book into a five minute silent film, featuring sound effects and music. As much as I'm annoyed by this part of the movie which boils all the heart-ache and complexity of Lt. Henry down to "he deserts because his letters to Catherine come back unopened," I can't help but admire its unique beauty.

The llieutenant hops a freight train to Milan. Meanwhile, Catherine, who is pregnant, has gone to Switzerland. In the book , she goes to a town near the Swiss border, where they are reunited, make a daring escape to Switzerland in a row boat where they live happily ever after, until Catherine dies in childbirth.

Lt. Henry arrives at the hospital to find Catherine moments away from a c-section to save her life and deliver their stillborn child. This image could be Alvin York, Lou Gehrig or Longfellow Deeds-- it is such a classic Gary Cooper moment. Though he's better known for those later roles, this performance could stand alongside the best of his work from the forties.


I swear William Wyler copied this entire death scene for Wuthering Heights. I often wonder if the censors would have released this film at all if Catherine hadn't died at the end, effectively punished for her wanton ways. The studio filmed an alternative ending in which she lived; Hemingway hated it. In fact, it is said that Hemingway really disliked the entire movie with one exception: Gary Cooper. He admired Cooper so much that he insisted he be cast as the hero of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

9 comments:

Emm said...

I almost watched this film in my early days of old movie watching, but skipped it once I heard about the sexual implications. I also don't like characters dying off.

I didn't know about "the code" until a few months ago. It really explained why films from the later part of the 30's had far less innuendo than ones from a few years earlier.

alesum said...

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Jennythenipper said...

There's no question that A Farewell to Arms is an adult-themed films were many of the best pre-codes. As a teenager, this kind of movie actually appealed to me. I watched Wuthering Heights over and over when I was 15-16 years old. I probably would have had a better time of it in my twenties if I wouldn't have been so drawn to romantic dramas like this. But it is worth watching for Cooper and Hayes and because it was incredibly influential. World War romantic dramas became all the rage. ˜Dark Angel" (1934) had a similar theme about premarital sex and WWI.

As for killing characters off, I think the irony of the story is that the whole time you are expecting that Cooper's character is the one who will get killed. Death is an inevitable fact of life. There's no justice or logic about when it will occur. Hemingway's point seems to be that we should seize those moments of happiness when we can and yet, even that is dangerous. The characters have a choice to try to suppress their feelings or to make the best of a very difficult situation. So they risk everything, are happy for a time, but loose everything in the end. Life has a way of throwing these kind of Kobayashi Maru situations at us. Maybe not all the time, but possibly everyone will have to face a choice as difficult as this at least once in their life.

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happythoughtsdarling said...

Thank you for that beautiful picspam. Wow, Cooper was something else back then, wasn't he? The more of his '30s/'40s films I see, the more I'm convinced he was the most gorgeous man ever in the movies.

Do you have a recommendation for a decent DVD version of "A Farewell to Arms"? Since it's in the public domain there are lots of lousy ones around. I've never seen the movie because I have yet to find a DVD release that isn't too terrible to watch!

MC

Jennythenipper said...

happythoughts: Yes, he was beautiful, wan't he?

That's an excellent question. I did these caps from the version that's on Netflix, which was not great. The two VHS versions I have are so bad they are unwatchable. A reviewer on Amazon said the Delta Entertainment DVD is the best and other reviewers have hinted at it as well.

http://www.dvdempire.com/Exec/v4_item.asp?item_id=535789

It is part of a three DVD set which isn't very expensive and you get two other excellent Cooper films and a documentary which ought to be worth at least one watch. I'm kind of tempted by this myself since the only version of Fighting Caravans is another dodgy quality VHS.

happythoughtsdarling said...

Jenny,

Thanks for the tip on the Delta Entertainment DVD. I already have a good version of "Meet John Doe," but not of the documentary or "The Fighting Caravans," so I'm tempted, too. I'm on such a Gary Cooper kick right now. :)

MC

Robert Deardorf said...

Here it is 2014 and the good news about living long enough is that 'Farewell' 1932 now has a BD from Kino! Watch in extreme happy and joy!