Fascination With A Farewell To Arms (Part II)
July 25, 2012 Leave a comment
PART II (A Movie Review)
This is the second in a short series of posts related to the novel “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway. In my first post on this subject, I reflected on the book and its continuing publication, following its release in 1929. This is the book that made Hemingway financially independent, but personal tragedy plagued him as well. As we have been taught in school, 1929 is the year of the famous stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. After the book’s publication, Hemingway wrote a letter to his father telling him not to worry about money. Unfortunately, the letter was delivered minutes after his father committed suicide.
In writing this post, I wish to focus on the 1932 movie made from the book. At the time I am writing this, the movie can be streamed on Netflix and Amazon, and can also be downloaded from the Internet Archive website (this movie is now in the public domain). It has been awhile since I watched a movie from this era, so it is important to realize some differences in how the movie is presented, as it contrasts from modern movie experiences. The film is in black and white. It has sound, but is not of the high quality we now expect in new releases. Special effects consist of smoke bombs, concussion sound effects, and small models that require the audience to play along by using their imaginations a bit. Still, it is a mostly faithful Hollywood adaptation of a book.
The movie stars Helen Hayes (who gets top billing in the credits) and Gary Cooper. Some scenes are shot using language that is almost verbatim from the book. Some parts of the book are omitted altogether (a necessity to keep movies at a reasonable length of time), and some parts of the movie are completely “Hollywood.” By that I mean it differs completely from the book in sections. Films of this era were subject to censorship, and credits show that this movie was “approved” for release to audiences. It needed to go through editing revisions before receiving the “approval”, however.
Some audiences responded negatively to the bleak ending where Catherine Barkley (the main character’s love interest) dies. An alternate ending was provided to many theater operators where she survives, turning it into a happy ending. Hemingway was reportedly furious over the movie studio’s decision to alter the ending of the story.
Despite approval from censors, the film was still banned in Australia and British Columbia (where Hemingway’s book was also banned). The book was also banned in Italy for its portrayal of the Italian retreat from Caporetto. In the United States, the main objection to the book was for its portrayal of sex, and its “vulgarity.”
Despite great advances in artists being able to express themselves freely, modern censorship cloaks itself in the shroud of “political correctness.” Despite the censorship, Hemingway continued to gain in popularity, and his work endures today.
In my opinion, it is unlikely that self appointed censors of the political left will successfully stamp out the popularity of proponents of traditional values any more than censors of the political right could stamp out the popularity of novels by such people as Ernest Hemingway (who the lefties now disfavor for his portrayal of women and homosexuality.)
- ‘A Farewell to Arms’ With Hemingway’s Alternate Endings (nytimes.com)
- Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 endings to A Farewell To Arms (telegraph.co.uk)
- Ernest Hemingway (wikipedia.org)