A Farewell to Arms (1932), the first screen version of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, is not the most faithful adaptation—at 90 minutes, it was greatly reduced and Hemingway himself was quite vocal with his displeasure at the adaptation of his semi-autobiographical story—but almost a century later it is still the most passionate and moving version.
Gary Cooper is almost impossibly young and beautiful as the stalwart soldier resigned to the grind of war and Helen Hayes practically glows as Catherine, an angel of a nurse who is nonetheless down to earth when it comes to romance and sex. They have an affair and she has his child out of wedlock, which the 1932 film refuses to condemn.
Director Frank Borzage’s romanticism would seem a poor match for Hemingway’s stoicism but he elevates their love to a holy purity even as it takes place outside the official bounds of the church and social acceptance. A priest performs a benediction over their union, which in this film passes for marriage, but the Catholic League wasn’t fooled and it condemned the film.
It’s a beautiful film (it won Academy Awards for cinematography and sound, and was nominated for best film and best art direction), even as the choppiness suggests a rather violent treatment by the studio hacking it down to 85 minutes. Yet the film, made in the era before the production code was enforced, still offers a far more adult portrait of the love affair on the battlefield than the 1957 version.
Adolphe Menjou, Mary Philips and Jack La Rue costar.
In black and white
The film fell into the public domain years ago and has been available in cheap, poor quality edition for decades. The versions we feature are the superior restored editions.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
A Farewell to Arms (Kino Classics Edition) [Blu-ray]
Farewell to Arms Arms (Kino Classics Edition) [DVD]