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.
- Charles Vidor
- Ben Hecht
- Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones, Vittorio De Sica, Mercedes McCambridge, Elaine Stritch
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: