A Farewell To Arms [Blu-ray]
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Though he was against the alterations forced upon his story for the big screen, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms came to life in this classic early talkie that helped define romantic melodrama within the confines of cinema back in 1932. Director Frank Borzage knew how to capture the fantastic within deep, dark realities of the world. Here, working from Benjamin Glazer and Oliver H.P. Garrett's screenplay, Borzage exaggerates the power of sexual infatuation in the face of all else; social norms, friendships, laws, and physical violence. The depiction strays from Hemingway's semi-autobiographical novel, but for nearly 80 years the film has stood as a pinnacle of romantic melodrama thanks to its love struck couple in Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper.
Amidst the first World War, Lt. Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) is an American serving as an ambulance driver on the Italian front. His friend Maj. Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) introduces him to his love interest, a forbidden nurse named Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes). Despite his friend's dismay, Henry swoons Barkley with his suave, everyman nature. Their romance seems to be cut short after he is shipped back to the front lines, but after being injured during a bombing he is sent back to Barkley and her fellow nurses for recovery. Their time together is kept a secret for fear that Barkley would be sent away had their relationship been discovered. With his health and love life are back in tip top shape, Henry is sent back to war, but when he discovers that his letters had been returned, nothing can stop him from tracking down the love of his life to make sure she is safe and sound, even if that means deserting his countrymen and risking his life to do so.
Released two years before Hollywood decided to self censor itself, A Farewell To Arms was a fairly racy film back in the day. Nearly every sequence contains some type of blatant reference to sex or drinking. The lead character even commits a series of dishonorable acts, such as stealing his friend's girl, sex before marriage, and even fleeing the heat of battle for selfish reasons. This is risqué stuff, and had it been made a couple years later, it probably would have been chopped to pieces. Luckily, this all-for-love classic survived the long journey from film to Blu-ray.
Fitting nicely into Kino's Classics series, A Farewell To Arms gets a competent, but bare bones home release. Given the source material, the film can only look so good. Detail and contrast are crisp, giving the aged image a clean look. Unfortunately, without a thorough digital restoration, it's doubtful the film will ever look a good as some films up around the same age. The original source is afflicted with scratches, audio pops, missing frames, color wavering, and you name it, but that has little or nothing to do with the transfer. As mentioned, the PCM 2.0 mono track has come origin issues, but here it sounds really nice anyway. In 1933, the film one an Oscar for Best Sound Recording for its bombastic combat scenes that awed the audiences of the time. For extras we are only given a few trailers and a picture gallery. The disc comes in a standard Blu-ray case.
Hopeless romantics and lovers of classic cinema have reason to rejoice in Kino's new release, but sadly the disc comes with no real special features to enlighten us on the subtle details of this vintage melodrama. Gently laced with humor, this tale of deceitful friendships and unyielding devotion exemplifies the exaggerated sentimentality that became a hallmark of the golden age of cinema. Save this one for a rainy night with your significant other. She'll love you steadfast, until the end of time.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: December 20, 2011