Tag Archives: Helen Hayes

A note on A Farewell To Arms (Frank Borzage, 1932)

I had seen A FAREWELL TO ARMS ages ago on TV and didn’t think much of it in spite of being a great admirer of Borzage. Seeing it again at the BFI yesterday on a big screen in a restored print was a revelation. Charles Lang’s cinematography glistens, and every glistening is meaningful, the lights and shadows over the bombings, the sadness of the rain, the way the tear on Gary Cooper’s face shine at the end helping to evoke his love and hopelessness. It is absolutely gorgeous. There are so many elements that dazzle: the camera taking on Gary Cooper’s point of view on the stretcher, so we see those grand Italian ceilings as he is most in pain; the way the camera becomes Gary Cooper’s mouth as Helen Hayes goes to kiss him. It’s full of subtle imagery purposefully deployed, some of it religious (the crucifixes amongst the battlefield) some of it sexual (the satin shoe). There’s one shot where a man with a totally bandaged head, looking outside the window as the city is being bombed where his knees buckle that becomes a metaphor, one created using a series of elements from the avant-garde of many arts, including here dance, that I found extraordinary. And the last scene, Helen Hayes’ death played almost entirely on Gary Cooper’s face, and then when he swoops her in his arms and the bedsheets make a bridal train. There’s a combination of all powerful belief in love and in God, that makes for a romantically transcendent ending. There’s a million things more to say on this film of course; but I wouldn’t have been able to see or think about any of them without being able to see this screening. I’m only sorry the BFI was not able to get a greater audience. There were only a handful of people in the large NFT1. Mubi is showing the restored original alongside the remake with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.

 

José Arroyo