A Farewell To Arms

1957, Movie, NR, 152 mins

Review

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An overblown Hollywood extravaganza that was universally condemned when first released and hasn't improved with age, this third and final version of Hemingway's classic stars Jennifer Jones (wife of producer David O. Selznick) as the doomed nurse Catherine Barkley, and the ponderous Rock Hudson as her lover, Frederick Henry. This epic was the bow-out production for the dynamic Selznick, who openly stated that the heavily funded film was a special vehicle for Jones, a bit of partial casting that backfired when audiences and critics alike rejected the 38-year-old actress in her role as the young nurse. In the familiar Hemingway story, she meets and falls in love with ambulance driver Hudson, gets pregnant, and delivers a dead child, dying herself a few hours later, while Hudson comments, "Poor kid! Maybe this is the price you pay for sleeping together." The price Selznick paid for this box-office bomb exceeded $5 million. He himself contributed to the film's demise by constantly interfering with the production, deluging director John Huston (later replaced by Charles Vidor) with contradictory memos on how to shoot the film almost frame by frame. The chief virtue of this hollow epic is the stupendous color photography of the Italian Alps by Piero Portalupi and Oswald Morris, who capture the landscape in breathtaking, panoramic shots. Also enjoyable is Vittorio De Sica's inspired performance as the wily Maj. Rinaldi, but it's not enough to offset the flagrant overacting by Jones and the woodenness of Hudson. This nepotistic catastrophe actually features a well-written script by veteran screenwriter Hecht (who knew Hemingway when they were young reporters in Chicago after WW I), but his lines are so badly mangled by the leads that little of the terse dialog has any impact. Selznick did not like the 1932 version of A FAREWELL TO ARMS; he called it "a critic's pet," and intended not only to reshape that film to his own perspective but to have Hecht alter the story's meaning, which angered Hecht. Moreover, Selznick quibbled constantly with Huston, telling the director, "you are getting a fabulous amount of money--$250,000--to direct a single motion picture. You are not entitled, therefore, to the privileges of an artist with an investment." (Memo from David O. Selznick, ed. Rudy Behlmer.) Huston told Selznick that allowing the producer to manipulate him and the story and allowing Jones to continue in her histrionics made Huston feel like a "prostitute," to which Selznick countered, "Maybe my way of making pictures is not your way, but it's the only way I know...my family...is even more important than A FAREWELL TO ARMS." Selznick must have realized he had brutalized a fine novel and wrote Hemingway a long, windy letter, begging recognition for the film, then almost asking Hemingway to like him, apologizing for his failure to stand up years earlier when Hemingway's wife Mary walked into a Cuban cafe, where Selznick was concentrating on learning a Mexican version of canasta! De Sica garnered an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance. leave a comment

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