A Farewell to Arms (1932 film)

A Farewell to Arms is a 1932 American pre-Code romance drama film directed by Frank Borzage and starring Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, and Adolphe Menjou.[2] Based on the 1929 semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, with a screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Benjamin Glazer, the film is about a tragic romantic love affair between an American ambulance driver and an English nurse in Italy during World War I. The film received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Art Direction.[2]

A Farewell to Arms
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Borzage
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onA Farewell to Arms
1929 novel
by Ernest Hemingway
Music byMilan Roder
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited by
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 8, 1932 (1932-12-08) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States

In 1960, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the last claimant, United Artists, did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[3]

The original Broadway play starred Glenn Anders and Elissa Landi.[4][5]


This is the plot of the original 1932 film, as it recently aired on Turner Classic Movies. The film suffered from editing and censorship even at its initial release . (See below.)

On the Italian front during World War I, Lieutenant Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), an American architect serving as an officer on an ambulance in the Italian Army, delivers some wounded soldiers to a hospital. There he meets his best friend and “war brother,” Italian Captain Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), a brilliant surgeon. They go out carousing, but are interrupted by a bombing raid. Frederic and English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), who fled from the nurses’ dormitory in her night clothes, take shelter in the same dark stairwell. The somewhat drunk Frederic makes a poor first impression, because he mistakes Catherine's bare foot for that of the prostitute whose arch he was caressing as the bombs fell. He realizes his error when he tries to put the satin slipper he is carrying onto Catherine's foot: The shoe is much too big.

Rinaldi persuades Frederic to go on a double date with him and two nurses, Catherine and her friend Helen Ferguson (Mary Philips). During a concert for officers and nurses, Rinaldi takes Catherine into the garden and goes to get them something to drink; Frederic sits down with Catherine, and when Rinaldi returns, they suggest that he bring out Miss Ferguson. They walk deeper into the garden and Catherine reveals that she had been engaged for eight years to a soldier who was killed in battle. Away by themselves, he tries to kiss her and she slaps him, but after they talk more, she asks him to kiss her again. In the darkness, he romantically seduces her, over her half-hearted resistance, and is taken aback and touched to discover she is a virgin. She talks bitterly about the whole situation and laughs hysterically, but he soothes her and begs her not to be sorry—he loves her.

Rinaldi is annoyed that Catherine prefers Frederic, but—after a brief, half-hearted attempt to implicate his best friend in Catherine's disappearance from the party, does a fairly good job of covering up when Catherine's absence from the concert is noticed.

Back in their room, Frederic puts on his pajamas and Rinaldi wakes and tries to find out exactly what happened. Frederic tells him repeatedly and angrily to “Shut up”—a sharp contrast to the easy way they discussed “girls” before they went to the brothel. In the dark, Frederic smokes a cigarette, and as Rinaldi watches the expression on his friend's face, he shakes his head in concern.

In their shared bed in the nurses’ quarters, Catherine lies staring at the ceiling while Fergie rants about the “silly geese stuffed with bunk about women’s role in the war” whose ranks Catherine has now joined. She is furious and disappointed. If Catherine had known him for a long time, or been in love... but Catherine only knew him for a day! How can she be in love? He will be like all the soldiers who receive women's sacrifices and never look back, much less come back. (It is never stated explicitly in the film whether Fergie's own heart has been broken by betrayal and/or death, or if she cannot bear the suffering she has seen around her.) Catherine says that she must have loved him, or it wouldn't have happened. She muses that she probably won't ever see him again, and it is not clear whether she is thinking of the vagaries of war or the possibility that he will be faithless.

In the morning, three ambulances, including Frederic's, leave for what will be known as the Second Battle of the Piave River. Frederic tells his driver to turn back to the hospital. He strides into the courtyard to find Catherine. Meanwhile, Renaldi discovers the ambulance parked out front. The driver has confidence in the “Tenente’s” reasons for returning, but Rinaldi knows better.

Tongue-tied and stammering, Frederic tells Catherine he will be away and that he wants her to know that what happened between them was important to him. He is going to a “show up above Plava... Nothing much.” (In 1932, only 14 years after the Armistice, audience members familiar with the course of the Great War, and able to ignore the film's occasional misspelling of the name as “Plava,” might have recognized that although the Italians were victorious this was a terrible battle with severe casualties on both sides.)

Catherine gives him the St. Anthony medal she wears around her neck, but they don't kiss. Rinaldi and the senior British medical officer pause in the hallway to observe. In the major's office, it is clear that Rinaldi has approached him to solve the problem of Frederic's preoccupation with Miss Barkley. He does not wish his friend, a good soldier, to “lose his head over a woman.” The head nurse suggests sending Catherine back to base, but instead the Major (Gilbert Emery) transfers Catherine to Milan.

At the front, Frederic is badly wounded in the legs and head when his bunker is blown up by an artillery shell. With special permission, Rinaldi comes to the front to operate on his war brother. He promises that he has made arrangements to send Frederic to the English hospital in Milan to “the beautiful Miss Barkley” and babbles to him reassuringly until the anesthetic takes effect.

The camera switches briefly to Frederic's point of view as he enters the hospital where Catherine now works. He receives a chilly reception from Ferguson, but Catherine rushes to his bed to embrace him. The matron reads his temperature and calls for the doctor, it is so high. Frederic chuckles.

In Frederic's room, the night before another surgery on his legs, the (unnamed) Italian Army chaplain (Jack La Rue ) aka “Padre” has brought Frederic some gifts. Catherine comes in and as they banter with each other the priest, who knows both of them, sees in their faces that they are lovers—and in love. They are proud of it. He blames the war, and asks each in turn, if it weren't for the war, would they marry? They say, yes. He turns his back and, hands folded, prays softly in Latin. Frederic recognizes the marriage service and they clasp hands. Catherine whispers “At least I’m in white.” The Priest says that that he cannot say they are married, but he can now give them his blessing, and does. Frederic persuades Catherine to shut the door: “It’s our wedding night.”

The months pass—July, August, September, October. They are in a café watching a puppet show with Fergie and a male friend, an opera singer who sounds like an American. (They don't mention his name.) He leaves when Frederic teases him about his debut at La Scala. Catherine and Frederic talk about asking Fergie to their wedding, and Fergie, despairing, says they won't marry. They'll fight. Or die. That's what people do. Choking back tears, she leaves, warning Frederic that if he gets Catherine in trouble, she will kill him.

Back at the hospital, the head nurse has discovered Frederic's substantial and diverse cache of alcohol. She accuses him of malingering and alcoholism and promises to have his convalescent leave canceled.

The lovers wait for his train to the front in a room above a café across from the station: red plush, gilded mirrors and nude paintings. As they talk, Catherine confides her fear of the rain: She sometimes sees herself dead in it. Sometimes she sees him dead in it. He promises he will always come back, and at the door picks her up so they can kiss face to face without bending or reaching. She weeps and collapses onto a chair as he leaves. Then she breaks her promise to him by going to the station to watch him get on the train. Then she walks to a ticket window, and Fergie appears. Catherine has summoned her to tell her of her plans. She is leaving that night for Switzerland, where she will have her child.

In a grubby garret, Catherine writes Frederic letters full of lies about her real situation. Back in Turin, Rinaldi tries to entice Frederic to the Villa Rosa to get drunk and enjoy some female company, but Frederic is intent on writing to Catherine. Rinaldi tells him that sacred subjects are no good for soldiers and spills the inkwell. He leaves Frederic to it, and is stopped by an orderly to censor the mail. When he sees the letter from Miss Barkley, he stamps it “return to sender,” repeating to the orderly the refrain “I do not like to see him lose his head over a woman.” Meanwhile, the hospital at Milan returns to Frederic all of his 32 letters, marked “person unknown.” He tells the Padre that he is deserting and going to Milan to find her.

A long (5 minutes and 45 seconds) montage of scenes along Frederic's road show the horrors of modern war for soldiers and civilians alike. Eventually, Frederic is pulled aside for questioning and escapes by jumping into a nearby river. He slips into Turin aboard a train, under a tarp covering armament, eluding the Carabinieri who are looking for “stragglers.” Stragglers go back to the front. Deserters are shot.

He comes through the nurses’ dormitory bedroom window calling for Catherine, but only Fergie is there. Furious, she will tell him nothing except that Catherine was pregnant and is gone. Frederic goes to his operatic friend and asks him to place ads in the papers. Rinaldi reads one and meets Frederic, now in civilian dress, at his hotel. He tells him that everyone thought he was dead, but now he can certify Frederic as a case of shell shock and cure him. Harry, the waiter, alerts Frederic that someone is planning to betray him, but Frederic will not leave and risk missing word of Catherine. Frederic tells Rinaldi that Catherine is going to have a baby, and Rinaldi, recognizing what that means to Frederic, reveals that she is in Brissago, in Switzerland.

In a windy storm, Rinaldi sees Frederic into Harry's rowboat. He gives Frederic a large sum of money and when Frederic calls him a good egg he says no, he is a fool. If he had known what Catherine meant to Frederic... He chokes up and they hug. Frederic rows 35 kilometers through a rainy night across Lake Maggiore to his Catherine.

Meanwhile, Catherine is delighted when she is told she has finally received some mail, but faints when she is given all of her love letters, marked "Return to Sender". She is taken to the hospital, where she endures a prolonged, exhausting and unproductive labor, somewhat eased by anesthetic. She hallucinates, thinking that the surgeon is Frederic, taking his hand and telling him she has got past the point where she was going to die. She is in grave danger, and Frederic arrives, wet and exhausted, just before she is wheeled into the operating room for a Caesarean section.

After the operation, the surgeon tells Frederic that the baby, a boy, died in the womb long before Catherine came to the hospital. Another doctor tells Frederic to go across the street to get breakfast. In the café, a shattered Frederic is oblivious to the news of Armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary that occupies all around him. He pleads with God to save Catherine and, unable to stomach food, returns to the hospital to wait.

At this point, the soundtrack begins to play strains of the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which build until the climax at the end of the film.

When Catherine regains consciousness, she knows she is dying and doesn't want Frederic told. The nurses comb her hair and help her to use powder and rouge to cover her pallor. Frederic comes in, and in the pre-dawn light they exchange heartbreaking endearments and plan the future, until Catherine panics and begs Frederic to hold her tight because she is going to die and is afraid. He soothes her and tells her they can never really be parted, that she is a fine, brave girl. She believes him, tells him she is not afraid, and, on those words, dies in his arms as the sun rises, the music swells, and a cacophony of bells, steam whistles and firecrackers (or gunfire) sounds. Frederic picks up her body and turns slowly toward the window, sobbing “Peace, Peace.” A brief cut to a sky filled with doves, and the resolution of the Liebestod plays over “The End”

This is the original ending of the film when released to international audiences in 1932. Some prints for American audiences had a happy ending, where Catherine did not die, and some were ambiguous; some theaters were offered a choice.[6] The censors were concerned about more than just the heroine's death.[7][8] Versions proliferated when a much more powerful Motion Picture Production Code got hold of the picture before various re-releases to film and television, not to mention the effects of a change of ownership to Warner Bros. and lapse into the public domain. This is why film critic and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, after an airing of the original version, summed up the film's history as “confusing.”

According to TCM.com: “ ‘A Farewell to Arms’ originally ran 89 minutes, and was later cut to 78 minutes for a 1938 re-issue. The 89-minute version (unseen since the original theatrical run in 1932 and long thought to be lost) was released on DVD in 1999 by Image Entertainment, mastered from a nitrate print located in the David O. Selznick vaults.” [9]


Critical reception

In his 1932 review in The New York Times, Mordaunt Hall wrote:

There is too much sentiment and not enough strength in the pictorial conception of Ernest Hemingway's novel ... the film account skips too quickly from one episode to another and the hardships and other experiences of Lieutenant Henry are passed over too abruptly, being suggested rather than told ... Gary Cooper gives an earnest and splendid portrayal [and] Helen Hayes is admirable as Catherine ... another clever characterization is contributed by Adolphe Menjou ... it is unfortunate that these three players, serving the picture so well, do not have the opportunity to figure in more really dramatic interludes.[10]

In 2006, Dan Callahan of Slant Magazine noted, "Hemingway ... was grandly contemptuous of Frank Borzage's version of A Farewell to Arms ... but time has been kind to the film. It launders out the writer's ... pessimism and replaces it with a testament to the eternal love between a couple."[11]

In a 2014 posting, Time Out London calls it "not only the best film version of a Hemingway novel, but also one of the most thrilling visions of the power of sexual love that even Borzage ever made ... no other director created images like these, using light and movement like brushstrokes, integrating naturalism and a daring expressionism in the same shot. This is romantic melodrama raised to its highest degree."[12]

Awards and honors

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for another two:[13]

Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  2. "A Farewell to Arms (1932)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  3. Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal. 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313.
  4. A Farewell to Arms, as produced on Broadway at the National Theatre, September 22 1930 to October 1930, 24 performances; IBDb.com
  5. Unlike most pre-1950 Paramount sound features, A Farewell to Arms was not sold to what is now known as Universal Television. Warner Bros. acquired the rights at an unknown date with the intention to remake the film, but never did. The film would end up in the package of films sold to Associated Artists Productions in 1956, that company would be sold to United Artists two years later.
  6. "A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  7. "A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Home Video Reviews - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  8. "A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  9. "A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Alternate Versions - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  10. Hall, Mordaunt (December 9, 1932). "Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou in a Film of Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms."". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  11. Callahan, Dan (July 27, 2006). "A Farewell to Arms". Slantmagazine.com. Slant Magazine. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  12. Huddleston, Tom. "A Farewell to Arms". Timeout.com. Time Out London. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  13. "The 6th Academy Awards (1934) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 15, 2011.
  14. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.

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