A Farewell to Arms (1932 film)

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A Farewell to Arms
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Borzage
Screenplay by
Based onA Farewell to Arms
1929 novel
by Ernest Hemingway and play written by Laurence Stallings.
Produced by
  • Edward A. Blatt
  • Benjamin Glazer
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited by
Music byMilan Roder
Distributed byParamount Pictures (original release)
Warner Bros. Pictures (1949 reissue)
Release date
  • December 8, 1932 (1932-12-08) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1 million (U.S. and Canada rentals)[2]
A Farewell to Arms

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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[4]

The original Broadway play starred Glenn Anders and Elissa Landi and was staged at the National Theatre September 22, 1930 to October 1930.[5][6]


The plot is from the original 1932 film 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, is an American serving as an ambulance driver with the Italian Army. While carousing with his friend, Italian Captain Rinaldi, a bombing raid takes place, and Frederic and English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley, who left the nurses’ dormitory in her nightclothes chance to meet in a dark stairway. Frederic is tipsy and makes a poor first impression.

Later, Rinaldi persuades Frederic to go on a double date with two nurses, who happen to be Catherine and her friend Helen Ferguson, "Fergie". At a concert for officers and nurses, Frederic and Catherine stroll into the garden, where Catherine reveals that she had been engaged to a soldier who was killed in battle. After more conversation, Frederic tries to kiss her and she slaps him. Both apologize and talk some more, before she asks him to kiss her again. In the darkness, he seduces her and tells her he loves her.

In the morning, three ambulances, including Frederic's, leave for the front. Before leaving, Frederic tells Catherine that what happened between them was important, and that he will survive the battle unscathed. Catherine gives him a St. Anthony medal she wears around her neck. Rinaldi observes this, and then enters a major's office, where it is revealed that Rinaldi had orchestrated the separation to prevent Frederic from being with Catherine. The major transfers Catherine to Milan.

At the front, Frederic is badly wounded by an artillery shell. He is sent to a hospital in Milan where Catherine rushes to his bed to embrace him. Later that night, an Italian Army priest visits Frederic while Catherine is there. Seeing they are in love, he performs an unofficial wedding.

Months later, Catherine and Frederic ask Fergie for their wedding, who rejects the offer, saying they won't marry due to the war. As she leaves, she warns Frederic that if he gets Catherine pregnant, she will kill him. Back at the hospital, Frederic is told his convalescent leave is canceled. While waiting for his train, Catherine confides to Frederic that she is scared of each of them dying. He promises he will always come back, and they kiss before he leaves. Later, Catherine reveals to Fergie that she is pregnant and she is going to Switzerland to have the child.

While apart, Catherine writes letters to Frederic, never revealing her pregnancy. In Turin, Rinaldi tries to entice Frederic to have some fun, but Frederic is intent on writing to Catherine. Rinaldi, unbeknownst to Frederic, makes sure that all of Catherine's letters are "Returned to sender". Meanwhile, the hospital at Milan returns Frederic's letters to him, marked "person unknown." Fredrick deserts and goes to Milan to find Catherine.

A Farewell to Arms ad from The Film Daily, 1932

In Milan, Fredrick finds only Fergie, who refuses to tell him anything other than Catherine was pregnant and is gone. Rinaldi meets Frederic at a hotel and finally reveals that Catherine is going to have a baby and that she is in Brissago, apologizing for his part in keeping the lovers apart.

While Frederic is rushing to the Brissago, Catherine goes into labor and is taken to a hospital. Frederic arrives as Catherine is wheeled into the operating room for a Caesarean section. After the operation, a surgeon tells Frederic the baby boy, was stillborn.

When Catherine regains consciousness, she and Frederic exchange endearments and plan their future, until Catherine panics fearing she is going to die. He tells her they can never really be parted. She tells him she is not afraid and dies in Frederic's arms as the sun rises. Frederic picks up her body and turns slowly toward the window, sobbing, "Peace, Peace."


This is the film's original ending 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.[7] The censors were concerned about more than just the heroine's death.[8][7] 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.

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]



The film's sound track includes selections from the Liebestod from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, Wagner's opera Siegfried, and the storm passage from Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes

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.[11]

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."[12]

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."[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for another two:[14]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schallert, Edwin (October 16, 1932). "Film Costs Hit Both Extremes". Los Angeles Times. p. B13. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  2. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M-140. ISSN 0042-2738.
  3. ^ a b c d Erickson, Hal (October 16, 2007). "A Farewell to Arms (1932)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  4. ^ 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. S2CID 191633078.
  5. ^ "A Farewell to Arms". Internet Broadway Database.
  6. ^ 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. However, Warner Brothers DID re-release the movie in the later forties. WB replaced the original Paramount openings and closings with its circa 1948 logo and completely re-filmed the opening credits and end title. 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.
  7. ^ a b "A Farewell to Arms (1932) – Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  8. ^ "A Farewell to Arms (1932) – Home Video Reviews". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "A Farewell to Arms (1932) – Alternate Versions". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  10. ^ Slowik, Michael (October 21, 2014). After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926–1934. Columbia University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-2315-3550-2.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Callahan, Dan (July 27, 2006). "A Farewell to Arms". Slant Magazine. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  13. ^ Huddleston, Tom. "A Farewell to Arms". Time Out London. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  14. ^ "The 6th Academy Awards (1934) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 15, 2011.
  15. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 124–126.

External links[edit]

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