I didn’t care much for the 1932 Gary Cooper version of A Farewell To Arms. But that earlier adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel about lovers struggling amid the cruelties of World War I was over in less than 90 minutes. We have David O. Selznick to blame for this bloated two-hour-plus Technicolor remake, announcing from the larger-than-life opening credits set against epic shots of sunsets, mountains, and valleys that he’s aiming for another Gone with the Wind. As it turns out, the film was a critical and box office disaster, a huge setback for Mrs. Selznick (lead actress Jennifer Jones), and the final producer credit for this egotistical Hollywood tyrant. When ambulance driver Frederick Henry (Rock Hudson) is wounded in battle, he’s cared for by stalwart nurse Catherine Barkley (Jones), and they proceed to moon over each other in endless “two characters in a room talking” sequences, punctuated by Cinemascope battles followed by “war-torn heroes marching through the mud” sequences that fill out a widescreen image but are emotionally vacant. Without Gone with the Wind‘s sparring couple of brash Vivien Leigh and smug Clark Gable in the center of the whirlpool, replaced by tepid, lovey-dovey Hudson and Jones, Selznick is hopelessly lost. Without compelling lovers at the heart of his grand-scale love story, it’s all just a meaningless protracted spectacle. Postcards are cheaper. (Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica livens things up in a supporting role as a womanizing doctor, but most of the other Italian roles are bumbling, Mammy-like attempts at comic relief.) Worst of all, the entire war narrative climaxes a full half-hour before the movie ends, at which point happy lovers Hudson and Jones go yodeling in the Swiss Alps. Their drawn-out bliss leads to a drawn-out pregnancy, culminating in a drawn-out miscarriage and climaxing in an agonizingly vain, drawn-out deathbed scene where Jennifer Jones mugs and twitches for all she’s worth while Rock just sits there like his namesake. “The way I see it,” Selznick once boasted, “my function is to be responsible for everything.” But after a lifetime of meddling with directors, he got what was coming to him. A Farewell To Arms was a signature failure that sums up his entire career: a showman with big panache and no heart. It’s good to know that history repeats itself in the movie business. Current big-dick impresario Harvey Weinstein, the man we love to hate, is still licking his wounds from his treacherous ride down Cold Mountain.
Well, Selznick knew how to do it Big. The Technicolor images are sharp, even if the color by DeLuxe makes the faces a little too rosy. The soundscape is appropriately vivid during the wartime sequences and clear throughout.
No self-respecting film historian would want to sit through this malarkey, so there's no commentary. There's simply a theatrical trailer that incorporates the best shots of the movie and a bit of Movietone News Footage.
To those willing to endure A Farewell To Arms: Don't be a hero!