In the early days of Hollywood, then, as now, literary adaptations were considered a fairly safe bet. The thinking was, if the book sold well, the movie should be exponentially more profitable.
A Farewell to Arms was first serialized in Scribner's Magazine from May to October of 1929 before being released in book form in September of 1929. It was to become the book that forever cemented Hemingway's literary reputation and the one which made him independently wealthy.
However, director Frank Borzage's A Farewell to Arms is not a straightforward adaptation of the book. The censors of the Hays Office had a field day with the original novel, what with its abundance of raw language and sensuality. To counter this, Borzage decided to concentrate on the more romantic elements of the story. In that regard it would later be compared to Lilac Time (1928), another wartime romance vehicle for Gary Cooper.
Ironically, Cooper was not the first choice for the lead role in A Farewell to Arms.
Actor Frederic March was originally cast as the ambulance driver Frederic Henry. However, when Paramount had the film's original director, John Cromwell, replaced with Borzage, March decided he wanted out.
Luckily for Cooper, he and the older March (he was three years Cooper's senior) were good friends. March would frequently take Cooper under his wing, giving him acting advice and steering him towards the better projects in development.
Actually, Cooper had originally asked to be considered for the lead role early in preproduction, but was never even considered a contender. However, when the part came open immediately before the cameras started to roll, Cooper was at the ready, just as he had been when his old drinking partner suddenly vacated Sternberg's Morocco (1930).
Cast opposite Cooper was Helen Hayes, who had just won the Academy Award for Best Actress in The Sin of Madelon Claudet
(1931). The announcement of the casting of Cooper as her amour was greeted by the trades with skepticism. Cooper was still perceived as a competent actor of stock Western characters (where he had made his mark in the silent era), not as a serious romantic lead.Cooper neednÕt have worried, as Borzage had complete faith in his new leading man, giving no direction whatsoever to him. Cooper took his emotional cue from the veteran Hayes, who created an understated performance of great depth. Cooper, in turn created a character of such vulnerability that the critics were totally taken by surprise. Hemingway himself even voiced his approval (although he
what they had done to his beloved novel.)The Þlm was nominated for Best Picture at the 1933 Academy Awards (it lost, to Frank LloydÕs
). However, Charles LangÕs delicate black & white cinematography did earn honors.
A Farewell to Arms
was also popular with audiences, helping to Þll ParamountÕs coffers during the 1932 Christmas release season.Helen Hayes returned to MGM for another eight Þlms before returning to the stage on Broadway. She would not be seen on screens again until 1952 when she played the mother in
My Son John,
HollywoodÕs last attempt to assuage its McCarthyist critics.
ÒI havenÕt read six books in my entire life.Ó- Gary Cooper