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It's no secret that Ernest Hemingway could be an ornery cuss when he wantedto, and he had little use for people who made their living in the film industry. So it's hardlya shock that he openly despised Frank Borzage's entertaining but bowdlerizedversion of his war novel, A Farewell to Arms. It issurprising, though, that he developed a longtime allegiance to the film'sbroad-shouldered star, Gary Cooper. Hemingway was known for discarding, or,worse yet, alienating even his closest friends. But he and Cooper becamebuddies a few years after A Farewell to Arms (1932) was released, and theystayed that way for nearly 20 years.
Cooper stars as Lt. Frederick Henry, a World War I officer whose world isturned upside down when he falls for a British nurse named Catherine Barkley(Helen Hayes.) Henry and Catherine are made for each other, but Henry'sfriend, Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) grows jealous of them, and has Helentransferred to Milan. Then, as luck wouldhave it, Henry is wounded and ends up in the very hospital where Catherineworks. Henry quickly heals, and is sent back into battle, but not beforeCatherine is carrying their love child. Though Catherine tries to contactHenry to tell him the news, she can't reach him due to even more treacherousmaneuvers by Rinaldi.
Eventually, there's a happy or ambiguous finale, depending on which print ofthe film you see. Paramount actually made both endings available to theaterowners, telling them to use the one that they thought would work best fortheir particular audience. Hemingway was less than enchanted with the ideaof projectionists randomly deciding how his hard-hitting story should end,and he was livid over several other instances in which the screenplaysoftened his hard-hitting vision. But the $24,000 he received for AFarewell to Arms' film rights encouraged him to sell several moreproperties to Hollywood in the ensuing years.
The movie's love scenes, by the way, were no problem at all for Hayes.Although she was happily married at the time, she harbored an intense crushon Cooper. She freely admitted as much in her autobiography, when, amongother Cooper-related confessions, she wrote: "My leading man was GaryCooper, and like half the women in the world, I was, in the words of theNoel Coward song, "Mad about the boy."
Hayes was right- pretty much everyone seemed to have a crush on Cooper,even Hemingway, in a testosterone-driven way. "Cooper is a fine man,"Hemingway once wrote, "as honest and straight and friendly and unspoiled ashe looks...Cooper is a very fine rifle shot and a good wing shot. I canshoot a little better than he can with a shotgun but not nearly as good witha rifle, due I guess to drinking too much for too many years." Both menliked to compare the African safari adventures they experienced beforemeeting each other in 1940. For the record, Cooper had 60 kills in fivemonths, including two lions. On a two-month safari, Hemingway bagged abuffalo, three lions, and 27 other unfortunate animals.
The two spent many competitive vacations together, hunting, fishing, anddrinking in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. Cooper, however, was no fool. No matter how much Hemingway insisted, he flatly refused to put on boxing gloves and climb into the ring. Cooper knew that his fine bonestructure was a key element of his screen charisma, and he didn't intend toruin it through pointless macho rough-housing. Hemingway, after all, didn'ttype with his cheekbones.
Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay: Oliver H.P. Garrett, and Benjamin Glazer (Based on the novel byErnest Hemingway)
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Editing: Otho Lovering
Art Direction: Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier
Sound: Franklin Hansen and Harold LewisPrincipal Cast: Helen Hayes (Catherine Barkley), Gary Cooper (Lt. FrederickHenry), Adolphe Menjou (Major Rinaldi), Mary Phillips (Helen Ferguson), JackLa Rue (The Priest), Blanche Friderici (Head Nurse), Mary Forbes (Miss VanCampen), Gilbert Emery (British Major).
by Paul Tatara