Monday, October 08, 2007

A farewell to melodrama


Maybe whoever comes up with the ideas to remake all of these old movies should take a look at "A Farewell to Arms." Unlike most of the classics Hollywood later decides to butcher, Ernest Hemingway's best novel has yet to receive a worthy film adaptation.

I watched the 1932 original, with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, sometime last year. No need to repeat myself; it sucked.

So I tried again tonight with the big budget David O. Selznick 1957 Fox CinemaScope version, starring Rock Hudson and Selznick's wife Jennifer Jones.

And I'm still waiting to see a good version of this tragic, beautiful story.

The later version is pretty. Director Charles Vidor captures some beautiful footage of Italy and Switzerland. The ending is much closer to Hemingway's final pages than the overblown closing frames of the '32 film.

And that's about all I can say. Jennifer Jones was a beautiful woman, but it's obvious she would not have been cast in this film had she not been married to the producer. Hudson has his moments, but just isn't emotive enough to play Lt. Frederick Henry. When he tries, you can cut the melodrama with a knife.

Hemingway's novels have found little success on the big screen. He's meant to be read, of course. Without Papa's tough, terse prose, it just doesn't work.

If you love this novel -- and to read it is to love it -- don't watch either film adaptation. Go see something at the theater. TiVo your favorite TV show. Flip on the radio. Take a walk in the woods.

But don't see this movie. It's kind of like returning to the park you loved to visit as a child, only to discover it's now a parking lot, with a Pizza Hut on one corner and a Blockbuster Video on the other.

On second thought, Hollywood, don't even bother trying to remake this film. You won't get it right anyway.

Besides, the bookshelf that holds all the Hemingway novels is only a few feet away.

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