Ernest Hemingway was scornful of this rich, romantic 1932 adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel set in Italy during WWI. Luckily, he was a better author than he was a movie critic. This is a remarkable film, kicking against the restrictions of early Hollywood in almost every scene. Our so-called hero, ambulance driver Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper), is a drunk, a deserter and (it could be argued) a date rapist, while his best friend, Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), is a manipulative, bitter old lech. The woman who gets tangled up with them, Helen Hayes’s nurse Catherine, may be a little restrained by modern standards, but in 1932 her behaviour must have seemed utterly scandalous.
And yet somehow the film persuades us to care about these lost, troubled souls, trapped in the heart of a conflict they can’t influence or really understand. There are scenes here like nothing else in cinema: the bordering-on-ridiculous credits sequence in which the frames are interspersed with loud bangs; the troubling ‘seduction’ by moonlight; Cooper’s flight from the corpse-strewn front; and, most powerfully of all, the fierce, poetic, unforgiving and unforgettable climax.
Cast and crew