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20th Century Fox presents
"Wine is a good thing. It makes you forget all the bad you do."
DVD ReviewA Farewell to Arms is another attempt at one of the epochal novels of the 20th century, an instant classic regarding World War I from Ernest Hemingway. Where the author uses a spare style to keep things moving forward, however, this rendering doesn't live up to the original, mostly through lethargic pacing and a cast that seems mostly uninterested in the subject matter and especially the romance.
Rock Hudson stars as ambulance driver Lt. Frederick Henry, an American who has volunteered to serve in helping the Italians against the Hapsburgs. He meets and strikes up a frontline romance with nurse Catherine Barkley (Jennifer Jones). When Henry is wounded by shrapnel, he is taken to a hospital and through some finagling manages to get Catherine transferred there, where their relationship goes to a deeper level. When the head nurse, Miss Van Campen (Mercedes McCambridge) realizes what they're up to, she deems Henry well enough to return to the front. But Catherine is pregnant, and circumstances conspire to make Henry a fugitive desperate to return to her and their soon-to-be-born child.
It's a terrible weakness in a romance when the leads don't seem to be particularly attracted to each other. That's certainly the case here, with Hudson sleepwalking through the part and Jones spending much of her time staring blankly off into space. The performances are thoroughly medicated with the exception of the sequence when Catherine first visits Frederick's hospital bed. There, and only there, is there a feeling of chemistry and a spark between them. But the rest of the time, their mooning just feels perfunctory, a function of the requirements of the script and nothing more. Hudson, unlike his crisp work with Doris Day, is leaden all the way through, starting with a zombie-like voiceover at the beginning; the grim finale explains that to some extent, but it nonetheless anesthetizes the audience to a greater extent than is enjoyable.
On the other hand, Neorealist director Vittorio De Sica turns in a particularly fine performance as Frederick's sympathetic surgeon, Major Alessandro Rinaldi. Demoralized by the waste of life and the seeming endlessness of the war, Rinaldi can't help but utter statements that when overheard are considered treasonable. It too is a bleak performance, but De Sica puts some credibility behind it that makes it moving, unlike the dull romance. Disillusionment is a major theme of the film, and De Sica by far does the best job of bringing it forward. Also notable in the cast is reliably watchable Oscar Homolka, as the doctor attending the childbirth. His clumsy attempts at reassurance have a grim undertone that betrays his suspicions that all will not go well.
The war sequences are reasonably well-executed (an uncredited John Huston apparently shot some work on them), conveying some of the chaotic feel of being an unarmed ambulance worker under fire. The sequences of Frederick and Catherine attempting to escape into Switzerland feel stage-bound and clumsy, and Hudson doesn't manage to convince the viewer that he's been rowing a boat all night long. The performance is artificial and stilted, and the running time is easily a half hour too long. Composer Mario Nascimbene tries valiantly to paper over the joints with a lush score, but it can't do the job by itself.
Rating for Style: D+
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: Although the anamorphic Cinemascope screen shape is provided, the transfer looks unaccountably soft and dupey. Color stability and black levels, on the other hand, are quite acceptable. Edge enhancement doesn't appear to be present, although mpeg compression ringing is visible in a couple spots.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Although the back cover describes the sound format as Dolby Surround, it is in fact DD 3.0 (left-center-right) with no surround channels whatsoever. Directionality is seldom very pronounced, though on occasion there will be a somewhat startling jump in the soundstage. Hiss and noise are moderate but not excessive for a film that's nearly fifty years old. Nascimbene's score sounds reasonably good, without too much shrillness, but understandably lacking in low frequencies.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 01h:18m:42s
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsPonderous and not romantic enough by half, this is one to avoid. Try the much more economical 1932 version with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes instead.
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