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A Farewell to Arms

Gasser

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

    I return to the unwed pregnancy scenario again with A Farewell to Arms in which military ambulance driver Gary Cooper has an affair with nurse Helen Hayes that results in the premature start of a family. This 1932 endeavor was the first motion picture version of an Ernest Hemingway novel. Gary Cooper became lifelong friends with Hemingway through making this film and would go on to act in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1943 as well.  

     Cooper’s lieutenant, who is an American participating with the Italian army during World War I, encounters a nurse whom he almost immediately convinces to sleep with him under the pretense that the war may do away with him at any time. I always find it interesting to look at how films suggest that love-making has occurred. See, for example, Casablanca, when Ilsa visits Rick in his room and a cut transports us from a kissing couple to the same setting seemingly some time later leaving the viewer to question what happened in the interim. In the case of A Farewell to Arms, the subjects lay on an outdoor bench to neck and we cut to Helen Hayes, still lying but with the curls of her hair draped across her face, her clothes slightly mussed. She then endures a moment of slight emotional distress while talking to Cooper.  

     But it is not necessarily this first-night tryst that lands Hayes in a family way. The couple continue their affair and, after Cooper is wounded, have some sort of unofficial marriage ceremony. A priest friend rattles off some nearly silent words in the hospital room leading Cooper to next declare his woman come to him because “it’s his wedding night.” The couple’s actual marital status is questionable, however, as they tell no one of their bond and when the pregnancy pops up, it is given the mask of immorality.  

     Over the years I’ve picked up on some interesting methods for veiling references to sex and pregnancy in dialogue. A Farewell to Arms includes a reference to sex through an inquiry as to whether Hayes was “kind to him practically.” For many years (and again, as I mentioned in These Wilder Years I don’t know when this changed) the word “pregnancy” was taboo on the big screen. The most common references were “having a baby” and if the miracle happened out of wedlock, the girl might be “in trouble.” In this case both are used as, Hayes’ nurse friend tells Cooper not to “get her in trouble.” Hayes later tells the friend she is “having a baby” and is leaving for Switzerland on the Italian border to wait for her man.  

     I am hesitant to analyze the story aspects of this movie as I have not read the novel and can’t confess to know any of his work. The story is a nice love tale, although perhaps not to the extent TCM’s Robert Osborne suggested in his introduction. The sound on this presentation was extremely low and had me upping the volume on my TV to the highest it’s probably ever gone. Additionally, I know Gary Cooper is a great actor, and I would never suggest otherwise, but I’ve noticed in this flick and others there are times when his expression and tone is so emotionless it would be characterized as a terrible performance by anyone else. I should perhaps note, however, that Mr. Cooper is quite young in this film, which is, of course, when he was most handsome. I always find it a welcome surprise to come across one of his earlier films as I’m quite accustomed to the older, yet charming version (See Love in the Afternoon).  

Source: Robert Osborne

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