I don’t have an opinion either way of Ernest Hemingway. It’s been a while since English classes in high school, and even then I don’t think my school ever made us read a Hemingway novel, so I basically have no experience with his work. For a film adaptation of one of his novels to be my first real go-through with Hemingway seemed to me both apropos and ironic, and for this film to be directed by Frank Borzage seemed to be rather inviting, if I do say so. I’ve only seen a small handful of Borzage’s films, but I’ve generally liked his direction in them (even though 7th Heaven ended up shooting itself in the foot by the end of it), so I gathered that I would mostly enjoy what A Farewell to Arms had to offer, both as a film and as a literary adaptation. By the end of it, though, I was left a little puzzled, having felt that as a film and a literary adaptation, A Farewell to Arms had been fairly wanting.
A still-young Gary Cooper is Lt. Henry, an American ambulance driver in the Italian Army in World War I, who goes out one night with his army doctor friend Rinaldi, ostensibly to play wingman as Rinaldi attempts to woo an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. As circumstances are wont to be, Henry ends up wooing Miss Barkley himself, and the rest of the film is the trials and tribulations put in their way by fate to test their love and see if they end up together on the other side of the war. Really, there’s not much more to this one than that, although once again I did enjoy Borzage’s work put into the film; the editing could’ve been a little less direct, but the film gets the job done. The one main aspect that I just couldn’t get into, however, was the central romance; Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes certainly tried their best, but their on-screen chemistry was sorely lacking and not all that believable, and considering the whole point of the film (besides the mild anti-war statement) was these two people trying their best to be together out of their love for one another, it made the whole thing seem somewhat pointless. I was also a little perturbed at how all the random people the main couple meet during the war seem to dislike the main characters so much; it made me wonder what was wrong with those people, instead of how much the main characters were going against code and protocol to be together.
I think the problem with this film is the same problem I’ve had with a few other films of this time period; it just moves forward, without a thought as to whether or not we the audience should actually care about what’s happening on the screen. The film is making itself for the sake of making the film, and little more than that, and that’s something I could never really accept, because the films that are made this way are, as a result, soulless and bereft of purpose. I wanted to like this more than I did, but the film seemed determined to make sure I got through it to the end and nothing else, not even caring whether or not I was invested in the characters or the story during the journey. Even the supposed anti-war message I’ve heard others say the film touts was piddling at best, and nothing that other films haven’t done better, including the Best Picture winner from three years prior. This was well made, sure, but there’s not a whole lot more I can say about it than that.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10