A Farewell to Arms (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
December 9, 2011 by Dennis Amith
“A Farewell to Arms” is a tragic melodrama that showcases Frank Borzage’s attention to details. May it be visual details or to extracting the best emotional performance from the film’s talents. While the film may not be a perfect adaptation of Ernest Hemmingway’s classic novel, this is the best film adaptation thus far. And with this remastered version for HD, this Kino Classics Blu-ray release is the definitive version of the film on video by far! Definitely recommended!
TITLE: A Farewell to Arms
FILM RELEASE: 1932
DURATION: 89 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1, LPCM 2.0 Mono
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: December 20, 2011
Directed by Frank Borzage
Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway
Screenplay by Benjamin Glazer, Oliver H.P. Garrett
Produced by Edward A. Blatt, Benjamin Glazer
Cinematography by Charles Lang
Helen Hayes as Catherine Barkley
Gary Cooper as Lt. Frederic Henry
Adolphe Menjou as Major Rinaldi
Mary Philips as Helen Ferguson
Jack La Rue as Priest
Mary Forbes as Miss Van Campen
A ravishing adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s legendary novel, A FAREWELL TO ARMS stars Gary Cooper (High Noon) as Lt. Frederic Henry, a young ambulance driver for the Italian army in WWI, more interested in chasing women than the enemy. When seeking cover during an air raid, he encounters Nurse Catherine Barkley (a radiant Helen Hayes), and the world shifts under his feet. They fall in love, but the war keeps wrenching them apart. These painful separations force Frederic to choose between love and battle, a decision that tests him morally and spiritually, and leads to one of the most rapturously romantic endings of all time.
Directed by the great Frank Borzage, winner of Best Director Oscars for 7TH HEAVEN (1927) and BAD GIRL (1931), A FAREWELL TO ARMS was a Best Picture nominee, and one of the crowning achievements of the studio system.
Ernest Hemingway will be forever known for creating classics in American literature. “The Torrents of Spring”, “The Sun Also Rises”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “The Old Man and the Sea”, “True at First Light”…a few of the novels that would influence generations.
But one semi-autobiographical novel remained true to his heart and that novel is “A Farewell to Arms”, a novel published in 1929 that would feature experiences by Hemingway, who joined the Red Cross in 1918 and became an ambulance driver in Italy. Hemingway was seriously wounded by mortar fire after making a delivery to soldiers in the front line. And while recuperating, he met a Red Cross nurse and fell in love with her. Unfortunately, the relationship was short-lived as she became engaged to an Italian officer and eventually devastated Hemingway.
Needless to say, the doomed romance inspired his third novel, “A Farewell to Arms” and the novel would spawn two film adaptations of Hemingway’s novel. One in 1932, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes and directed by Frank Borzage (“7th Heaven”, “Street Angel”, “Lucky Star”, “The Mortal Storm”). And a remake by producer David O. Selznick in 1957, starring Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones and Vittorio De Sica and directed by Charles Vidor. The latter which was panned by critics because they felt Selznick was trying to create a Hollywood “Gone with the Wind” style of film with the remake.
Meanwhile, the original film adaptation would be nominated for four Academy Awards including “Best Picture” and winning two for “Best Cinematography” and “Sound-Franklin Hansen”.
But with the original 1932 film adaptation having been released in the public domain for years, many wondered if the film would receive a proper release on video. And Kino Lorber will be releasing the classic 1932 film, featuring an authorized edition from the Estate of David O. Selznick from the collection of George Eastman House on Blu-ray in Dec. 2011.
While the 1957 film is probably what Selznick is best known for (the film would be his last), because he did purchase the rights to remaking the film, the original classic is part of the Selznick Collection.
If there is one thing that can be said about the first film adaptation, as Hemingway’s original story was literally five books long, there is only so much story that can be fit into an 89-minute film. The film received mixed reviews from film critics but for those who are fans of Frank Borzage’s work, Borzage has always been instrumental in capturing young lovers facing true adversity but also incorporating a visual influence which he learned from F.W. Murnau.
“A Farewell to Arms” revolves around an American named Frederic Henry (played by Gary Cooper, “Seargeant York”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”), an ambulance driver in the Italian Army and one day, while delivering wounded soldiers to a hospital, he meets his friend, Major Rinaldi (played by Adolphe Menjou, “A Star is Born”, “Paths of Glory”).
Major Rinaldi is a doctor, but if there is one thing to say about the man, he works hard and plays hard. Often drunk at nights and loves having fun with the women, Rinaldi is excited because he can introduce some of this fun to his good friend Frederic.
As the two are eating dinner, there was a bombing raid and everyone takes off running. For a drunken Frederic, he takes up shelter with Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (played by Helen Hayes, “Airport”, “The Sin of Madelon Claudet”). Her first impression of him is that he was a crazy man but naturally, the two meet with each other once again as Rinaldi and Frederic go on a double date.
Originally, Rinaldi was to be with Catherine and Frederic with Her friend Helen Ferguson (played by Mary Philips) but immediately, Frederic immediately goes after Catherine as Rinaldi goes to get some alcohol. Needless to say, Rinaldi is a bit annoyed that Frederic went for his date but he accepts it.
While spending time with Catherine, Frederic finds out that she had been engaged to a soldier, but he was killed in battle. While the two are alone together, he tries to seduce her but she is resistant, mainly because she is a virgin. But she gives into the passion and both spend time together and for both individuals, they fall in love with each other.
But Helen warns Catherine that Frederic is no different from any other man, he will just use her and she will never see him again. But Catherine hopes that Frederic is not that kind of man, because she loves him.
Meanwhile, as the two have a relationship together, Rinaldi is not too happy about their relationship because it is against army regulation. Also, Rinaldi likes his friend when he is drunk and joins him to find other women around town. So, Rinaldi has Catherine transferred to Milan in order to end their relationship.
But one day, Frederic is wounded and is taken to the hospital where Catherine is working and immediately, both continue their relationship and try to prolong their time together. But with Frederic having to be sent back to battle, Catherine who has had nightmares of her or Frederic dying in the rain, decides that she wants to do all she can to keep relationship with Frederic ongoing. And the fact that she is pregnant (which Frederic is unaware of), she wants to take the baby to a safe place and moves to Switzerland.
But Rinaldi is still angered that the two are continuing their relationship and doesn’t like seeing his friend so focused on one woman, so behind Frederic’s back, Rinaldi rejects every letter that Catherine has sent him, and because Frederic is unaware that Catherine has moved to Switzerland, he worries that something bad must have happened to her in Milan.
So, Frederic makes a decision to escape from the Italian military during the heat of war in order to search for Catherine. But will he survive the ordeal?
“A Farewell to Arms” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is mastered in HD from an original nitrate 35 mm print, preserved by George Eastman House Motion Picture Department.
With that being said, let me first preface with my personal viewing of “A Farewell to Arms”. The film has been available via in public domain for many years and was also released on the DVD “Love Scenes: The Romance Classics Collection” from Passport back in 2007. While the film has been shown on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), the public domain copies that were available were not in the greatest shape.
Bare in mind, this film was made in 1932 and the PD versions that were released were blurry, had many scratches and white specks and major flickering which made the picture quite dark.
With that being said, “A Farewell to Arms” on Blu-ray looks much better than the previously released PD versions on prior video formats. It helps that the film was mastered in HD from the original 35mm nitrate and while the Blu-ray release does have white specks, scratches and occasional flickering, for one, it’s not as much as the PD versions and second, there is much more clarity and detail that can be seen in the HD version. For example, when Frederic is trying to escape for desertion and jumps into a river. In previous version, you really couldn’t make out the detail of what was in the lake. The log, looked like some black clump but now, you can actually see the details.
Whenever the camera focuses on close-ups of Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes faces together, there is much more detail, especially in clothing. You can see the rain-soaked Frederic much more clearly than previous video versions and for the most part, it’s that extra clarity and detail that makes a big difference. Contrast is very good as the grays and whites are strong, black levels are deep and for the most part, it’s the best looking version of the film that I have seen thus far.
Granted, the picture quality is not pristine but for the most part, I did not see any artifacts or DNR applied to the video. Grain is present and overall, this Blu-ray release is possibly the best looking version of the film at this time.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“A Farewell to Arms” is presented in 2.0 LPCM Monaural. In the original public domain videos and DVD that I own, there was a bit off hissing and crackle and I generally figured that was how many films of the early Talkies era generally were.
But I did not notice this problem on the Blu-ray version of “A Farewell to Arms” during my viewing. Dialogue was clear, music was clear, planes bombing the area and people screaming were all audible and clear. No problems whatsoever.
“A Farewell to Arms” comes with the following special features:
- Trailers – Featuring trailers for “Nothing Sacred”, “A Star is Born” and “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”.
- Stills – Featuring various images from the film and lobby cards and posters of the film.
Considered by many as Hemmingway’s most bleakest novel and considered by many classic film fans as a wonderful, but yet tragic melodrama, “A Farewell to Arms” is a film that showcases Borzage’s visual style and also showcasing the performance of both Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes.
“A Farewell to Arms” is a rather interesting film for me because I know many people are driven towards this film because it stars two legendary Hollywood talents but for me, the original draw was the fact that Frank Borzage was directing the film.
As a big fan of the work of F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage for me was a technical master when it comes to capturing space, emotion and doing things his way when it comes to making another’s screenplay and honing it to his own personal style and he is known for his melodramatic film such as “7th Heaven” and “Lucky Star”. For me, I have always watched his films, paying attention to shot composition and how he would try to extract the most natural performances from his talents.
In “A Farewell to Arms”, may it be the closeup of Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper’s face, capturing sensuality or may it be the close-up of their hands and showing the love and determination of each wanting and yearning for each other, but also trying to capture the suffering of people during wartime. “A Farewell to Arms” manages to be a visual and one of the better, well-acted emotional films of the early Talkies era and I believe that having Frank Borzage as the filmmaker definitely gave the film that extra edge through that slight does of expressionism.
But what hampers this film is the fact that Hemmingway’s novel was large and it’s a novel that was crafted in a way, that each chapter built upon each character’s development. So many storyline plots were left or minimized such as Frederic and his talks with the Priest, the novel also goes into more detail about Catherine’s fiance which only had a quick blurb in the film.
A lot of film adaptations tend to have this issue of how much of the book can be made into a full-length film. In the case of “A Farewell to Arms”, it was something that both Benjamin Glazer and Oliver H.P. Garrett had to work with and for those who have never read the novel, I would imagine that they were pleased with the pacing of the film. Personally, this film could have been longer to extend certain scenes and build upon character development but if you watch the 1957 film and see how much more they tried to make things better, in a way, it made things a bit worse.
So, I can understand those who have read the book first, especially Hemmingway purists at the time not liking the film because so much story was left out. But I would imagine that people who did enjoy the film and have never read the book, would probably be more open to reading the book for its additional storyline plots and details.
As for the Blu-ray release of “A Farewell to Arms”, this is the best version I have seen of this film-to-date. Public domain versions of this film were in terrible quality and the only time people had seen a very good version was when Turner Classic Movies aired the film with its original casting credits nearly a decade ago. But this version was mastered in HD from the original nitrate 35 mm and the Paramount logo and credits are all included in this HD version and this is the best looking version of the film-to-date.
While I wish there were special features included such as audio commentary or even a short featurette on the making of “A Farewell to Arms”, you do get a gallery featuring the artwork for the promotion of the film via its included gallery and you get three trailers.
Overall, I find it quite fitting for “A Farewell to Arms” to be released on Blu-ray in the best presentation possible. I know that there are so many people who either viewed this film in the worst way possible via public domain or were fortunate to catch it on TCM but finally, people can experience this film in HD and enjoy it! In fact, I can only hope that Kino Lorber continues in bringing more of these classic films to Blu-ray as they have proven with their silent classics lineup, there are a good number of fans who would love to see more classics on Blu-ray!
In the end, “A Farewell to Arms” is a tragic melodrama, a war film that showcases Borzage’s visual flair but also showcasing a fine performance by its two talents, Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. A classic worth revisiting over and over again!
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