Wednesday, July 9, 2014

So Long, "Farewell"

Considering all the ingredients present, it seems unlikely that anything other than the recipe for a perfect storm could be the result for today's featured film. Not only have several cinema notables been quoted as bemoaning the fact that Hollywood too often remade the good films when they should have been redoing the bad ones, but also, in the case of this movie, the situation was compounded by having a producer determined to – no, let's say obsessed with the notion to – outdo his earlier crowning achievement, 1939's Gone with the Wind.
Throw in an awkwardly-cast leading lady, endless behind-the-scenes conflict and supremely complicated set-ups featuring hundreds of extras and equipment and its a wonder 1957's A Farewell to Arms was completed at all! All this aside, the works of source novelist Ernest Hemingway rarely made their way to the screen without compromising issues of some sort. As it was, it did manage to make back most of its cost, but the producer David O. Selznick never produced another movie.
Selznick, whose triumphal Wind led him to forever try to match that film's success, had been wanting for years to remake the fondly-remembered 1932 classic A Farewell to Arms, which starred Broadway luminary Helen Hayes and the impossibly beautiful Gary Cooper (who was fifteen inches taller than her!) 

Though the two never worked together again, they created a romantic teaming that was, for many cinema fans, unforgettable and indelible. They were virtually the same age as each other as well.

The only way Selznick could obtain the rights to Arms was by bartering with Warner Brothers, whose property the story was. Since they wanted to remake a movie of his themselves (Selznick's A Star is Born, 1937) in order to feature Judy Garland, a trade was made with Selznick chipping in $25K additional for the ability to launch his project. Selznick then obtained an agreement with 20th Century Fox to release and assist with the picture and hired (against the advice of several onlookers) John Huston to direct.

These two gentlemen, while creative and innovative, were stubborn and single-minded. They clashed from the start over where the focus of the movie should lie (the horrors of war or romance against the backdrop of turmoil.) There was little doubt where Selznick stood on the matter since the whole point of the project was to provide a juicy part for his own wife, the Oscar-winning Jennifer Jones! Huston had directed Jones twice already, so there was no conflict there, just in the fact that a) he wanted the story to be more about the vagaries of battle between nations and b) he was too meticulous in pre-planning for the all-important shooting timeline to be maintained. Selznick has assured 20th Century Fox that the project would remain on schedule and arrive on time.

Just before filming was to begin, Selznick fired Huston and brought in Charles Vidor (shown here directing Hudson on a cafe set.) Vidor certainly didn't get off easy, with Selznick endlessly micro-managing the production with both his infamous memos and his on-set interference. Among Selznick's worries were the lighting and cinematography of his wife and the prominent Adam's apple of Hudson, which he insisted be camouflaged with makeup at all times. (In another ironic twist, Vidor had been married to Gone with the Wind actress Evelyn Keyes from 1944-1945, but she divorced him and married John Huston in 1946, the marriage ending in 1950!)

Hemingway, the author of the famed source novel, was aghast that the heroine of the film (a character based on a real woman he knew and loved) was to be played by a thirty-eight year-old. The male lead Rock Hudson, in fact, was more than five years her junior, changing the dynamic from a soldier winning the heart of an emotionally fragile virgin (whose fiance was killed) to a soldier falling for an older woman who'd spent many chaste years with a man (who was killed in action) and is now a neurotic near-spinster!
The film itself proceeded this way. Just as Gone with the Wind had boasted a title that swept across the screen from right to left, never appearing whole all at once, A Farewell to Arms did the same thing, while lush music and scenery filled in the wide-screen frame. This was followed by a historically mood-setting scrawl, just like Wind. It was a calculated (and, in hindsight, rather foolish) bid to set the tone for lightning to strike twice. What resulted was more of a sprinkle.
Hudson (top-billed after the roaring success of 1956's Giant) plays an American serving in the Italian forces as an ambulance driver during WWI as they are resisting the encroaching German army. Just back from a leave in Milan, he joins his superior officer Vittorio De Sica and fellow drivers Kurt Kasznar and others before they are to partake in a sojourn to the front, waiting only for the snow to thaw.
De Sica tells Hudson of a new British hospital that is stocked with pretty English nurses, one of who (Jones) he has his eye on. He takes Hudson there and before long comes upon Jones restocking clean linens in a large pantry. Hudson strikes up a conversation with her and swiftly learns that she had been in love with a young man for eight years who has now died in the war and she is questioning whether it was right or not to have never married or at least made love to him. (This is only one of several startlingly frank moments for a mid-'50s movie to make it into the final cut.)
Sensing a chemistry with this stiff, but tender, lady, Hudson returns to visit her just before he is to ship out to the front. She is clearly cut from the most ladylike and reticent cloth, but when a cloudburst sends them careening into a small greenhouse, her reserve is dampened and the next thing you know, they've abandoned their senses of propriety and gotten down to business on the floor! (A rather phallic cane of her deceased love's that she'd been carrying around, is left lying limp on the floor after the night of passion.)

By the way, it is during the storm at the greenhouse that we learn of Jones' irrational fear of rain. She says she always pictures herself dead in the rain and cries practically every time it falls.
While the troops are preparing to head out and stave off the invading Germans, Hudson wonders if he will see Jones for a fond farewell. As their rendezvous in the garden didn't end on a particularly happy note, despite their lovemaking, he fears that she may have decided not to see him again. However, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara's traipse through war-torn Atlanta to find a doctor, Jones valiantly makes her way through hordes of bustling soldiers and onlookers in order to see Hudson before he departs.
They share a meaningful kiss in front of God and everyone, with her promising to see him when he gets back, in fact imploring him to make it back.
Next, the Italian army is shown diligently making its way up and across the Alps in a scene that is staggering in how much it encompasses. Hundreds of soldiers on foot and dozens of vehicles are wending their way along the mountain roads. No CGI here, folks! And there is no way to convey the scope of these scenes in screenshots. It must be seen in motion to be appreciated.
Gorgeous snow- capped mountain ranges are the site for an oncoming battle. Hudson is forced to flee when a barrage of explosives starts to hit the Italians and he hops aboard a hand-cranked trolley that takes him down a mountain by cable. After an explosion, he watches in horror as one of his fellow drivers dies, though he is severely injured in the leg himself.
He's shuttled off in one of his own ambulances along with another victim in the berth above him. In another rather graphic (for 1957) moment, the injured man above him begins to hemorrhage, dripping blood onto him as the vehicle bounces over the treacherous terrain.
Because he is American, he is sent to a newly-formed American hospital in Milan. In a disarmingly humorous interlude, Hudson's 6'5” frame continually presents a problem for the men assigned to transport him. He's repeatedly crammed and crushed, dropped and dumped until finally making his way to the safety of the nurses on staff (both of them!) at the facility.
The hospital is overseen by the deliciously severe and persnickety Mercedes McCambridge (who played Hudson's rugged sister in Giant the year before this.) The no-nonsense McCambridge has an amusing reaction to Hudson's refusal to have his temperature taken after he's thrown the thermometer across the room. She whips out a rectal thermometer and asks her assistant nurse to turn him over and see if he can “break this one!” (A similar scenario had already appeared in Hudson's 1954 film Magnificent Obsession!)

That assistant nurse is the engagingly frank and wry Elaine Stritch, of all people, who adds a welcome dose of winking levity to the pro- ceedings. She and McCambridge make an amusing combo with Stritch gleefully bending all the rules while her boss sternly expects everything to be run her way and no other. (It could be argued that their gently comic shenanigans are at odds with the otherwise serious subject matter, but I think they add greatly to the film and wouldn't have it any other way.)
Hudson uses his influence with De Sica to have Jones transferred from her own hospital to the American one in Milan, even though Hudson is the only patient there! Needless to say, he receives round the clock care. If it isn't Stritch sneaking bottles of liqueur into his room, tucked away in her bosom, it's Jones giving him “healing” back massages.
Before he's even close to being fully recovered, he grasps Jones and takes her to bed (his hospital bed!) The morning after their first tryst, the otherwise crisp and starchy Jones is seen lounging against a balcony in her uniform, sans the apron, which is surprisingly curve-hugging; her hair undone around her shoulders. Who knew that the grey wool dress underneath her white coverlet was so clingy and sensuous-looking? It's a neat turn by the costumer.

The happy couple would love to be married, but they know that if they should proceed on that course, she will be shipped back to England and that she cannot bear. They continue their clandestine meetings, covered up by her duties with him as a nurse, with the aid of a sympathetic Stritch.

Occasionally, the couple enjoys an outing, whether to a restaurant or, as in this case, a boating. Jones (whose character, it must be said, spoils practically every single moment the pair has together by posing endless, annoying, neurotic questions about their relationship!) grabs hold of Hudson's oar and manipulates it around, all the while jittery and ecstatic in the water... Finally, he reels her in and the boat is shown rocking back and forth as the two of them get it on! (I'm not making this up.)

One day, the repressive McCambridge looks everywhere for Jones only to find her reading the American newspaper to him, but with her headdress off. Later, she discovers that Hudson has been drinking alcohol while in his “sickbed” and storms into his room to see Jones lying atop Hudson in an embrace and furiously announces that she is going to have Hudson sent back to active duty.
Trouble is, now Jones is pregnant! Still, Jones resists marrying Hudson, wishing to remain nearby as he heads back into service and, surprisingly, bucking the conventions that she and many others have clung to up to that point. Before he leaves once more for the fields of battle, they share a night together in a garishly decorated motel (that rents by the hour.) (PC purists will be horrified at the way she continues to toss back alcohol during her condition.)

The once-lively town that Hudson reports back to is now a bleak, dingy, oppressed place. He discovers his old pal De Sica in a state of depression and despair over the mounting poor conditions of the hospital in which he futilely tries to mend and save the wounded. The previously gregarious and optimistic De Sica is 180 degrees different now.

With the Germans breathing down their necks, the town is ordered to be evacuated, with De Sica, Hudson, Kasznar and others ordered to get out, even though it means leaving behind the rows and rows of injured and ill patients. Only local priest and friend to De Sica, Alberto Soldi (shown here with Hudson), opts to stay behind, though the others have scarcely left the building before the hospital is fatally shelled.

Now the soldiers, doctors and displaced residents have embarked on a harrowing journey across mud-caked, rubble-strewn roads, with desperate people clinging and clawing for life. (In still another remarkable moment for a 1957 film, a woman is shown dead or unconscious on the side of the road with a living baby still suckling on her bare breast!) Kasznar meets with an untimely end during a scuffle and before long De Sica begins to become slightly unhinged.
While De Sica is passionately and loudly rambling about the horrors around him, he is overheard by some zealous Italian soldiers stationed in the next town who accuse him of insurrection and of being a German spy! They arrest both Hudson, who had attempted to defend De Sica, and him, transporting them to a makeshift court-martial chamber.
In a stark sequence, Hudson watches in disbelief as his comrade De Sica is swiftly found guilty and instantly assassinated in a nearby courtyard! The committee of officers, obviously in the mood to kill anyone they please, begin to come down on Hudson, but he makes a break for it, narrowly escaping death himself by throwing himself in the river amid a hail of gunfire.

Washing ashore and afraid to be spotted in his uniform as the deserter he's now become, he dons the wet, bullet-hole-ridden sweater and pants from a body he finds along the river and sets out to find Jones. He has to skirt McCambridge at a hectic train depot, but manages to wrangle Jones' location out of a disapproving yet still sympathetic Stritch.
This production still, taken during a break in filming, shows “fugitive” Hudson casually enjoying a smoke as McCambridge looks on from a rail car!
Hudson finds Jones situated in a secluded hotel where she is ecstatic to be reunited with him.
Blissfully, they renew their acquaintance with one another, though she is by now showing from her condition. She (hilariously in hindsight) describes to him the “gay” times they'll have together. (This shot of them below shows how youthful and contemporary he seems while her styling and manner give off a motherly vibe, something that stymied many critics and viewers of this film.)
(In this shot, we get a good glimpse of the Adam's apple that haunted David O. Selznick and which he wanted to be obscured under any conditions. In fact, Selznick once bumped into Hudson early one morning on the set and rather than offer, “Good morning” he blurted something like, “Your Adam's apple isn't made up...”)

The couple's happiness is short-lived, however, when he tells her he is going to have to get out of Italy, lest he be tried (and likely killed!) as a deserter. They opt to procure a boat and sneak across the gigantic lake to Switzerland during the night. As it is a twenty-mile trek and she is in no condition to row, this is no easy feat. Naturally, there is a rainstorm during the journey and we all know how Jones feels about the rain. Somehow, in the presence of Hudson, she seems to have lost her fear of it, though.

A near miss with a German patrol boat finds them hunkered down among some reeds until it is safe to emerge again. (It was during this sequence of the movie that Selznick and associate producer Arthur Fellows (who'd worked on Gone with the Wind and Duel in the Sun) clashed. Selznick ultimately slapped Fellows across the face, which prompted Fellows to strike back, breaking Selznick's glasses and cutting his eyes! Jones even got into the fray requiring crew intervention and Fellows' resignation.)

Once free and clear of the enemy, they emerge to a Swiss cafe where they are informed of delightful bed & breakfast where they can retreat and wait out the birth of their baby.
At this point, we're subjected to some rather sticky scenes of their bliss and frolic amidst the snow-covered hills and valleys of the region and in their fairy-tale chalet. I'm on record as not disliking montages in movies, but this section of Farewell is just a touch too gooey for me for some reason.
It's not forever, though, since when Jones' time comes to deliver the baby (overseen by craggy, but well-meaning doctor Oscar Homolka), problems start to kick in. 
In yet still another instance of this 1957 film pushing the boundaries, Jones' is depicted on the operating table (with Hudson inside the delivery room!) enduring prolonged agonies related to childbirth. This and the other instances I've mentioned beforehand would soon be benign and commonplace, but generally these sorts of things were referred to rather than shown and usually with less emphasis on them.
In any case, Jones suffers interminably until Homolka decides that a Caesarian delivery is necessary. He sends a distraught Hudson out of the room so that he can have the proper conditions with which to perform the surgery. Later, he has to inform Hudson that things didn't go at all smoothly during the precarious procedure as the rain has begun to fall...
Rock Hudson was a clear example of a manufactured star; a strapping, yet docile, truck driver named Roy Scherer renamed, refashioned and hammered into a matinee idol by notorious talent agent Henry Willson. In time, he grew from a stumbling, insecure player into a confident, multi-talented actor who could headline a motion picture.
He'd toiled as a Universal contract player for five or six years with ever-increasing success until 1954's Magnificent Obsession shot him to fame. After All That Heaven Allows (1955), Giant (for which he landed an Oscar nomination, losing to Yul Brynner for The King and I) and Written on the Wind (1956) he had his pick of films. In order to star in Farewell, he bid adieu to the leading parts in The Bridge on the River Kwai and Sayonara (both 1957) as well as consideration for the much-stalled Ben-Hur (1959), thus he considered doing this film the biggest misstep of his career.
Hudson's own favorite movies of his were Giant and Seconds (1966), which was a critically-acclaimed, but non-box-office art film. For me, A Farewell to Arms is the film in which Hudson never looked better. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for the uniform, but more likely it's that he frequently escapes from the overly-groomed look of a '50s man and is shown unshaven, disheveled and with his curly locks in disarray (i.e. - the way many men look now, giving him a contemporary appearance.)

He's also just photographed beautifully throughout most of the picture. (The entire movie is staggeringly photographed with many gorgeous and inventive wide-screen com- positions.) Even more, I think I am drawn to Hudson here because I feel like this is the best acting he was ever permitted to do. He has a bedside breakdown scene opposite Jones that comes across and so raw and real. (In fact, it was reported that once Vidor was able to convince Hudson to cry in the scene, no one was able to get this constrained and restricted actor to stop!)

During the filming of Arms, Hudson was in the final stages of his brief makeshift marriage to Phyllis Gates. She was in Italy for part of the production, but not for long. He had taken a young Italian actor as a lover during the location filming. Two years after this movie came Pillow Talk with Doris Day, which opened up an entirely new realm for the actor in comedy. He worked steadily, though increasingly on TV, until his headline-making death from AIDS in 1985 at age fifty-nine.

In the case of Jones, I had to work my way backwards, having first experienced her as the heroic Lisolette Mueller in The Towering Inferno (1974), the end of her screen career. Though many believed that her Oscar-winning role in The Song of Bernadette (1943) was her debut, she had actually appeared in several things beforehand using her real name of Phyllis Isley. (Incidentally, the year she won her award, she beat Ingrid Bergman who was up for the Ernest Hemingway story For Whom the Bell Tolls, her costar in that being Gary Cooper of the 1932 version of Arms!)
Jones' first husband was the brilliant, but troubled Robert Walker (of Strangers on a Train, 1951, and many others), though she left him for Selznick in the mid-'40s, marrying the producing zenith in 1949. Under his guidance, she maintained an illustrious career with additional Oscar noms for Since You Went Away (1944), Love Letters (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946) and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955.) (The statuettes went to Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart, Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, Olivia de Havilland in To Each His Own and Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo.)

By the time of Farewell (or earlier!), Jones had developed a peculiar habit of over-accentuating the movements of her mouth, resulting in some contortionistic expressions that hampered her effectiveness as a leading lady. Her fans could forgive it, but her detractors were horrified by the effect this gave. She also in this film seemed not to have completely shaken off the staid, reserved quality that she'd given her Eurasian character in Splendored Thing, which served to make her even more matronly opposite Hudson than her age and WWI styling dictated.

Jones' life was punctuated with sudden deaths, with first husband Walker dying at thirty-two of drug interaction, son Michael Walker dying of a drug overdose, David Selznick dropping of a heart attack at sixty-three and their daughter Mary Selznick jumping from a window to her death at twenty-two. Jones' second husband, industrialist-philanthropist Norton Simon, lost a son to suicide not long before their marriage and even Jones attempted suicide herself when her close friend, actor Charles Bickford, died suddenly of a blood infection! (Even novelist Hemingway shot himself to death in 1961,one of five people in four generations of his family to do so.)

Retiring after Inferno to help manage her husband's many interests (and continuing to do so after his death in 1993), Jones shied away from interviews and most movie industry occasions, though she did take part in the 70th and 75th anniversary tributes at those Oscar ceremonies along with a few other occasions. She lived to be ninety years old, passing away of natural causes in 2009.

Whatever problems this production incurred or the perceived lack of connection between the leads was perceived, Hudson and Jones got along very well throughout the filming and beyond. Except for some awkward portraits taken prior to filming, they most often were found enjoying each other's company and sharing funny moments together.
Selznick, as noted above, never produced another movie after Arms. His legendarily lengthy memos, in which he berated and niggled at associates over the details of his film projects were collected into a 1972 book (reissued in 2000) called “Memo from David O. Selznick.” (The famous “O” was added by him to distinguish himself from an uncle with the same name and because he liked the imposing sound of it. He died in 1965 at sixty-three.

Vidor never completed another film after this one either. His final project, Song Without End (1960) was completed by George Cukor after Vidor suffered a fatal heart attack at only age fifty-eight. Among his better-known movies are Cover Girl (1944) and Gilda (1946), both starring Rita Hayworth, and the James Cagney-Doris Day film Love Me or Leave Me (1955.) Vidor's career had previously been adversely affected by his unsuccessful lawsuit against Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn over mistreatment.

De Sica was not only a prolific Italian actor, but a director in his own right, The Bicycle Thief (1948), one of many accomplishments. He had, in fact, directed Ms. Jones and Montgomery Clift in 1953's Indiscretion of an American Wife. Later, he directed Sophia Loren to a Best Actress Oscar in Two Women (1961.) His dynamic work in Arms led to an Oscar nomination, though the award went to Red Buttons for Sayonara. In 1974, he died at age seventy-three following surgery for a cyst in his lung.
Homolka was a delightfully craggy Austrian character actor who worked in movies such as Sabotage (1936), Ball of Fire (1941) and I Remember Mama (1948), for which he scored an Oscar nomination. (Walter Huston won for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.) He worked in movies and on TV through the mid-'70s before dying of pneumonia in 1978 at age seventy-nine.

McCambridge was a highly distinct character actress, short at 5'3”, with a snub-nose and an unusual voice that sounded as if she were speaking despite the onset of strangulation. (In 1973, she famously lent that voice to The Exorcist for use as that of a little girl possessed by Satan.) 1949's All the King's Men brought her an Oscar, though she was nominated once more for 1956's Giant (losing to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind.) McCambridge, who had tangled famously with Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar (1954) worked through the late-'80s before retiring, dying of natural causes in 2004 at age eighty-seven. One piece of gruesome trivia is the fact that her son, John Markle, killed his wife, two daughters and himself in 1987 after being caught in a complex embezzling scheme.

One of the very few people in Arms to still be drawing breath today is Ms. Stritch, who is eighty-nine at present. Gaining considerable fame on stage, she eventually segued to film and TV, though never entirely turned her back on Broadway. Having led a colorful life (to say the least), her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” won a Tony in 2002. She also has three Emmys to her credit. A gravel-voiced, scene-stealing, much-beloved character in every sense of the word, she is still at it today whenever possible.

Austrian actor Kasznar is remembered for his many supporting parts in movies like Valley of the Kings (1954), Anything Goes (1956), Legend of the Lost (1957) and 55 Days at Peking (1963) along with his hammy villainous role on Land of the Giants (1968-1970.) Having originated the roles of “Uncle” Max Detweiler in “The Sound of Music” (for which he scored a Tony nomination) and Victor Velasco in “Barefoot in the Park” on Broadway, he performed on stage many times. He passed away in 1979 of cancer at age sixty-five.

Alberto Sordi, cast in the role of an amiable, devoutly dedicated priest was actually best known in his Italian homeland for his comedic abilities. In fact, one of his early assignments was providing the Italian voice for Oliver Hardy in many slapstick Laurel & Hardy movies. Later he went on to a prolific, acclaimed career in his country's cinematic output. His funeral in 2003 attracted a crowd of over a million! He was eighty-two and had been felled by a heart attack.

While A Farewell to Arms is loathed by many fans of Hemingway (as well as by many classic film fans in general), it was not exactly a box office flop. It just failed to entirely make back its considerable expenses. (20th Century Fox recouped its expenses, Selznick did not.) Selznick offered Hemingway a $50,000 gift as he was making nothing on this, having signed away the film rights long ago, but the always-thorny author basically told him he could convert it into nickels and stick them, well, you know where....!

While I recognize its flaws (one being over- ength - it is 152 minutes while the original ran a mere 88!), I can't help but have a fondness for it for reasons which border on the fetishistic. For one thing, I have a weakness for love stories set against the backdrop of war, with passionate reunions included. The tragedian in me also appreciates an unhappy ending. But beyond all that is the striking color scheme of the movie. The gunmetal grey uniforms and the pristine, sterile white offset by the never-ending signal of the red cross (here at times the hue of nearly-dried blood.) I also have a thing for imposing nurses (see Joan Crawford in The Caretakers, 1963, and Elizabeth Ashley in Coma, 1978.) But would you believe I have never once seen anything but brief clips of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)?!

Then there is the stunning art direction, location scenery and spectacle. While I am not a fan of much of the back- ground music of the film, I do think that the love theme is very beautiful and memorable. It does justice to the (intended) romantic highs of the story.

I've mentioned throughout this post the way the movie pushed certain limitations, be it premarital relations, blood-letting, partial nudity (all of which are incredibly tame by today's standards), but there is also no shortage of suggestiveness, be it in the frank depiction of prostitutes or the nude murals and busts in the hospital building. The one thing that is practically eliminated – surely due to Hudson's real-life orientation – is the hint of homo/bisexuality that had been hinted at in the original 1932 film between Hudson's and De Sica's characters.
Finally, there is the sound of the movie. Though many viewers have railed that Jones and Hudson lack chemistry, I find that it is there, just uneven. Sometimes the relationship seems phony and forced, but other times it is more than palpable. I love the way the movie sounds when Hudson is in his hospital bed, feverishly whispering for Jones to go and lock the door. There's a clammy, intense, voyeuristic quality to it that is very fascinating for a 1957 movie.

This version of the story is certainly not the definitive one, though it is also not the most obscure. The events had previously been re-set to WWII and Americanized for 1951's Force of Arms, starring William Holden and Nancy Olson (considered hot together from the prior year's Sunset Boulevard) and also presented as a episode of Climax! in 1955 starring Guy Madison and Diana Lynn. A 1966 BBC miniseries featured the unlikely duo of George Hamilton and Vanessa Redgrave! Then, of course, came the film In Love and War (1996), which cast Chris O'Donnell as Hemingway himself and Sandra Bullock as his nurse.

It might well bore you to tears (it doesn't me, obviously!), though in wide-screen high-def it is undeniably beautiful to look at, whether it be the lush scenery or the towering Rock Hudson at or near the peak of his handsomeness. 

11 comments:

rico said...

Great job, Poseidon!

I've always had mixed feelings about this film...how could a viewer not, it's such a mixed bag, given the chaotic production. You post makes me want to give it another try ; )

I have a huge soft spot for Jennifer Jones, so I am biased. But I think the 5 year age difference feels more than it is, because Rock was a new superstar, whereas Jones peaked a decade prior. I love the publicity stills of the two of them--beautiful stars!

Funny, when I was a kid, I thought Rock was a bit of a dolt. Certainly not as beautiful and charismatic as Newman, Brando, and Clift. But, I've gained a new appreciation of him over the years. One film that changed my mind was "All That Heaven Allows." He looks like a Norman Rockwell illustration come to life, with a gentle demeanor, and a terrific speaking voice. Always loved Rock and Liz in sizzling and sparring in "Giant." I've been meaning to check out "Seconds" and will definitely revisit "Farewell."

As for Jones, I think her looks are fine (frankly both she AND Rock are a bit long in the tooth for their young characters)...but her later facial tics are hard to watch. I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that marrying Hollywood's top showman wasn't her happy ending. And it literally showed. Wonder if her and Grace Kelly ever talked about their H'wood "fairytale" lives!

I was always amused by the teaming of Mercedes and Stritch as nurses...I would not want to be under their "brusque" care!

And Selznick: He always got wet over literary adaptations, didn't he? Even though he wasn't officially involved, DOS hovered over Jones' last big role in Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night."

Also, had John Huston ever directed a Hemingway story? Huston's lean, literary style would have been perfect. Plus, he had Hemingway's same worldview, and were good friends, I believe.

Well, you have certainly sparked an interest in me to see this again! I love reading your take on film and the other fun stuff you post!

Cheers, Rico

Poseidon3 said...

Rico, first thank you SO much for taking the time to comment in depth on this LENGTHY post of mine (which wasn't really intended to be this mammoth!)

I agree with you about Rock. No, I don't put him on par with those other actors, but he wasn't woodenly walking through all the parts that he's been accused of, especially this one that was right after "Giant." He has several fine moments here (and, yes, a few weak ones.)

Jones' expressions in this... well, some of them are just bizarre! I could have been really nasty and captured a series of them for a laugh, but the perfectionist in me kept looking for her better moments. Ha! And, no, I do not envy her as the wife of Selznick, though their affair and eventual union practically did in Robert Walker.

I could find no record of Huston doing a Hemingway movie, though I didn't focus on that too heavily. (You're dealing with a person whose favorite books include Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls and, when I'm feeling "high-brow," Gone with the Wind and Rebecca! Ha ha! So I never profess to be too learned about literature...)

I can't speak for anyone else, but I often find that movies I watched back in the '80s & '90s on TNT, AMC, TBS, etc... cropped, blurry and faded (not to mention cut up for commercials) are a revelation when I see them again in the right format and clarity. It's not ALWAYS the case, but often so. It certainly doesn't hurt! This movie MUST be seen in widescreen in order to appreciate it.

Thanks again, Rico!

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

I can't get over how youthful and well-matched together Rock & Jennifer look in the candid shots and the non-period publicity photos. (Amazing work finding those by the way).

If only the film could have captured some of that essence. I wonder if Jennifer was just so micro-managed that she froze up on camera? I admit that I have only liked her in Song of Bernadette and she is acting "weird" in that one too but that is explained by the story.

Hudson was not the actor that Newman and co. were, but I think he is a better comedian than all of them. Thank heavens he finally hooked up with Doris Day who was able to bring that side out of him.

I have fast-forwarded through the almost unwatcheable 1932 version. Gary Cooper in that movie is so stunning though that you just can't fast forward through the shots of him. It almost seems impossible to look that good.

I recently finally saw the Sandra Bullock movie and was frustrated beyond belief. Sandy gave such a buttoned down performance (probably appropriate for the time) that her charisma is almost not there. Why bother using her if you're not going to let her do what she does best which is force the audience to see her and like her. :-)

joel65913 said...

A marvelous critique as always Poseidon. I made it all the way though this lumbering trial once after several attempts and while there were impressive set pieces I found the movie a tedious bore.

I did appreciate those mammoth scenes! I love the pageantry of old films, the CGI video games that Hollywood tries to pass off today are no substitute but it was the main action that left me cold.

I'll readily admit I'm not a big fan of Hemingway and have only seen two adaptations of his work that I really liked, The Killers and particularly The Macomber Affair and found The Snows of Kilimanjaro passable but that was mostly because of the star trio.

I think somewhere in the article you mentioned you enjoyed books along the lines of Peyton Place, GWTW, Valley of the Dolls and the like, if you haven't read it already I think you'd enjoy Forever Amber. I picked it up because of its scandalous reputation and to compare it to the film, it's much better than the screen treatment, and found it a compulsively readable page turner.

I thought the original Farewell was a tepid affair even with the youthful beauty of Gary Cooper to hold my interest. Part of that was attributable to Helen Hayes. Though I was crazy about her when she was older in her youthful screen career she rarely seemed comfortable in her pictures and often pitched her work to the back row. There was some of that in the early version but though she and Coop were the same age she still seemed too old for the part even if she was closest of any of the actresses who have played the role. While I was watching I kept wishing they had cast Sylvia Sidney as Catherine, at that point she would have been ideal.

But back to the film at hand. I am not a fan of Jennifer Jones, excepting The Towering Inferno I've never seen a performance of hers that I didn't think another actress could have done better. Part of the blame for that lies with Selznick's obsession to prove she was the world's greatest actress which she clearly wasn't. Within a limited range she was okay but never compelling and as she became more affected my tolerance lessened even more.

Already starting at a disadvantage of age like you said the costumers and hairdressers did her no favors since she often looks downright dowdy. With her casting I think the film was doomed before it began but then had she not been given the role the picture never would have been made. However I think it would have been more effective even in it's present overlong form if a more appropriate actress, say Hope Lange, Lee Remick or Piper Laurie had been placed in the role.

I agree Rock is startlingly handsome here and his sometimes bedraggled appearance works to his advantage. And Mercedes and Stritch are most amusing but even with your enjoyable overview of the film I don't think anything could make me watch it again. I'll admit that the Hudson/Jones Arms is miles better than the absolutely atrocious In Love and War, one of the worst films I've ever seen.

I hadn't realized there was a 60's version of the tale. I would love to see Vanessa Redgrave's Catherine, a talent like hers must have made something great out of it. It a bit hard to image George Hamilton in the Rock Hudson role although in the mid-60's he was still a serious actor but I can't image that a presence as strong as Vanessa's wouldn't have blown him right out of the frame.

Ken Anderson said...

Not sure why, but outside of "Giant", I've always seemed to avoid Rock Hudson films, so I'm thoroughly unfamiliar with this opus,which looks to at least offer the sometimes amusing dramatics of Jennifer Jones, a quirky favorite.

I only last week saw that Elaine Stritch documentary, which included the booze-smuggling scene you mention, then here you are reviewing the film. Perhaps it's in the cards for me to at last check it out.
The stills you show of Hudson paired with Mother Jones remind me of the less-than-sexy pics I've seen of him with matronly Jane Wyman in "Magnificent Obsession", they always put me of a mind to thinking about Jack Wrangler and Margaret Whiting.

This one looks like it might be enjoyable to watch with a friend with good camp sensibilities, perhaps.
Thanks for all the backstory you provide, and your humorous takes on the stars and their behind the scenes behavior, which always makies a film which might not have held interest for me, appear worth the time!

Poseidon3 said...

Dave, you're right. Rock and Jennifer make a far more complimentary contemporary couple than in period drag. What's interesting is that JJ's hair in "Farewell," while it is different than her own from 1957, is not truly authentic to the WWI era (at least I don't think so) and just doesn't serve her well at all. And I agree that Rock's segue into comedy was most welcome! As for Sandra, you'd think that a woman who inspired young Hemingway so much would be presented dynamically on film, but it sound's like she wasn't (I've yet to see that movie myself.)

Joel, Jennifer Jones is such a divisive personality. For each person who finds her annoying, there is someone who adores her and feels protective of her. Interesting... The other possibilities you mention for this part are intriguing, though still none of them British as the character was meant to be! I wonder what a 1957 Joan Collins would have been like in the part. From what I understand, the BBC version with Vanessa and George is "lost." Shame...

Ken, "Farewell" does have its amusing guilty pleasure moments in it, but it's also long and at times a bit snoozy. Maybe a pal or a small gang of wisecrackers could make it a fun experience, though. I always buy Rock and Jane in "All That Heaven Allows" more than in "Magnificent Obsession" because at least in the former their age difference is noticed. Not that Jane doesn't have her charms, but I can never quite get why ROCK would fall for her...

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Oh boy, you can have my copy of In Love and War if you want it. I'd love to be rid of it. :-) Heck, if you live in SoCal, I'll drop it off personally!

Sandy is bad in it because she's being "serious" but Chris O'Donnell is a complete blank. I can't even recall him in it, and he certainly doesn't provide the man-candy of Rock and/or Gary Cooper.

Why on earth did they style Jennifer Jones to look so matronly? She was cute and had a rocking figure. I just don't get it. Didn't Selznick want her to be "hot" as well as being a "master thespian?"

At least I know Jennifer Jones married Norton Simon and got super rich and presided over a world class art museum. I can't feel too sorry for her, even if she did have to kiss David O. Hopefully only on their anniversary and his birthday!

roijoyeux said...

Hey Poseidon !! I just watched this on youtube !!! ... I think it could have been as great as "Gone with the wind" but D. O. Selznick probably gave too many instructions to his wife Jennifer Jones on how to act the part so she was drowned in his "memos" and she overacted and as a result the love story looks forced and untrue... If they wanted that much to make another "... Wind" they should have set a talent search, they may have found a miracle like Vivien Leigh ... Anyway thank you for your blog, it is one of my favorite blogs, I visit it every week and even though I almost never comment, I enjoy it tremendously (and it is one of the reasons why my English is so good :)

Poseidon3 said...

Roijoyeux, thank you so much for wading back into the Underworld archives to read this post and comment on it! Looking back at it myself it is so long!!! I do love to go on... Ha! I'm very pleased that you enjoy my blog and especially gratified if it is assisting you with your English (though I cannot claim to be a grammatically correct author, especially when it comes to punctuation!) Thanks again.

ross said...

Isn't Catherine Barkley supposed to be older than Frederick Henry? Can't see Hope Lange or Lee Remick or someone like that in it, weren't they younger than Rock?

ross said...

PS - I'm referring to their ages in the book