A Farewell to Arms (1932) and Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Toronto Film Society presented A Farewell to Arms (1932) on Monday, November 3, 1986 in a double bill with Little Man, What Now? (1934) as part of the Season 39 Monday Evening Film Buffs Series “B”, Programme 2.

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

Production Company: Paramount.  Director: Frank Borzage.  Screenplay: Benjamin Glazer, Oliver H.P. Garrett, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway.  Photography: Charles Lang.  Editor: Otho Lovering.  Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson.  Costumes: Travis Banton.  Musical Score: Ralph Rainger, John Leipold, Bernhard Draun, Paul Marquardt, Herman Hand.  Released: December 8, 1932.

Cast:  Helen Hayes (Catherine Barkley), Gary Cooper (Lieutenant Frederic Henry), Adolphe Menjou (Major Rinaldi), Mary Philips (Helen Ferguson), Jack La Rue (The Priest), Blanche Frederici (Head Nurse), Henry Armetta (Bonello), George Humbert (Piani), Fred Malatesta (Manera), Mary Forbes (Miss Van Campen), Tom Ricketts (Count Greffi), Robert Couterio (Gordoni), Paul Porcasi (Inn Keeper), Gilbert Emery (British Major), Peggy Cunningham (Molly).

Nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Pictre.  Winner of Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Recording.


Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Production Company: Universal.  Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.  Director: Frank Borzage.  Screenplay: William Anthony McGuire, from the novel by Hans Fallada.  Photography: Norbert Brodine.  Art Direction: Charles D. Hall.  Editor: Milton Carruth.  Music: Arthur Kay.  Released: May 31, 1934.

Cast:  Margaret Sullavan (Lammchen), Douglass Montgomery (Hans Pinneberg), Alan Hale (Jachman), Catherine Doucet (Mia Pinneberg), Fred Kohler (Communist), Mae Marsh (His Wife), DeWitt Jennings (Emil Kleinholz), Alan Mowbray (Franz Schluter, the actor), Muriel Kirkland (Marie Kleinholz), Hedda Hopper (Nurse), Sara Padden (Widow Scharrenhofer), Earle Foxe (Frenchman), George Meeker (Shultz), Bodil Rosing (Fran Kleinholz), Donald Haines (Kleinholz Jr.), Monroe Owsley (Kessler), Paul Fiz (Lauderback), Etienne Girardot (Spannfuss).

The first title of one of Frank Borzage’s greatest silent films, Street Angel (1928), and the title of a film book written on him, is “…souls made great through love and adversity.”  This theme more or less applies to all of Borzage’s films, certainly tonight’s two features, for no director ever showed better the warmth of human love ina profoundly united couple.  Many of Borzage’s films expressed a deep hatred of war.  When war broke out a second time, his inspiration seemed deadened, and he resigend himself to directing mostly routine programmers.  But during his peak years, 1925 to 1940, Borzage had few peers.

A Farewell to Arms, written in 1930, was Hemingway’s sixth novel, but the first to be filmed.  This original was followed in 1951 by an updated version, Force of Arms, with William Holden, Nancy Olsen and Frank Lovejoy, and in 1957 by David O. Selznick’s last film as producer, a remake reverting to the original title, with Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones and Vittorio De Sica.  A Farewell to Arms had its Broadway roadshow premiere on December 8, 1932, with a running time of 90 minutes, as opposed to the 78 minutes the film runs now.  Variety, at the end of its review, commented that “at least 10 minutes could be easily axed for general release”–and it was.

There were two different prints of the film during its first run, one with a happy ending and one with the tragic end that climaxed the novel.  Hemingway, of course, abhorred the happy ending, but most theatres of the time played it.  Fortunately, it appears that the original tragic end is the one on remaining prints.  Unfortunately, all prints on video and all TV broadcasts of A Farewell to Arms are poor dupes.  With the original negative bought by Selznick for his remake, chances of seeing a sparkling print of the film that won an Oscar for best photography that year ever again are remote.

Helen Hayes’ film career as a star was brief, although her professional life in front of the camera was unprecedented, predating even Lillian Gish.  Miss Hayes was born in 1900, the daughter of an actress, made her stage debut at five and her Broadway stage debut at nine in “Old Dutch’.  In 1910, at the age of ten, she appeared in her first film, Jean and the Calico Doll.  By 1920, when her second film, The Weavers of Life, surfaced, she was already a major Broadway star.  Yet the Variety film critic even then pinpointed her future lack of stardom in films–“she appears older than her years”.  A decade of increased Broadway stardom ensued, till her writer Husband, Charles MacArthur, was lured to Hollywood and wrote The Sins of Madelon Claudet for her.  The resultant Best Actress Oscar only led to two more good film roles, Arrowsmith and A Farewell to Arms, and a handful of programmers.

Perhaps the acting plum of A Farewell to Arms is Adolphe Menjou.  Menjou (18909-1963), who acted in films from 1916 to 1960, actually was an officer during WWI, and his beautiful delivery of the film’s best line, to Gary Cooper, “Why don’t you be like me, all fire and smoke and nothing inside?” is truly chilling in the Borzage context.

Hans Fallada’s novel, “Little Man, What Now?” was an immediate success the year it was written.  A German film, Kleiner Mann, Was Nun?, came out the same year the novel was written, 1933, and although the Variety writer did not like the casting of the film, the audiences in Berlin during August, 1933 cheered during several scenes in the film.

The casting of the American remake, the following year, left little to be desired.  Margaret Sullavan (1911-1960) was one of the top romantic actresses in Hollywood, and unexcelled in tearful melodrama.  Her work in Little Man, What Now? compares with her equally magnificent performances in Three ComradesThe Shop Around the Corner, and The Mortal Storm (two of them directed by Borzage).  Douglass Montgomery (1908-1966, born in Brantford, Ontario), although prone to stare a bit into space during some of his dialogue, actually delivers his lines very modernly, very smoothly.  Alan Hale (1892-1950) and Mae Marsh (1895-1968) are simply standouts in supporting roles.

Variety called the film “an artistically commercial filmization of a bestseller”, and “almost a profound film” and “It’s human, homely and romantic.”  “It is thoroughly believable and understandable, whether its locale is Germany–thhis original geographic background has been retained in the Universal production–or whether it’s the U.S.  The retention of Hans Fallada’s original setting presents this saga of the vicissitudes of a very much-in-love young couple objectively and yet contemporaneously, without bringing it too disturbingly into the home grounds.  The action in the novel was said to have transpired in the Reich up until the recent political revolution.  As a screen document there is no definition of time.  Some may endeavor to read of-the-moment politic significance in this exposition of Hans Pineeberg and his Lammchen (Montgomery and Miss Sullavan).  But viewed objectively, sans any thoughts of the daily cable news dispatches it shapes up as an interesting picture, the travail of the provincial couple in making their mark in the world, securing a means of lucrative employment and enjoying the normal human experience.”

John Belton’s good little monograph on Borzage, “The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 3” includes several interesting comments on the film.

“Borzage’s Little Man, What Now?, like Griffith’s Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924), is set in the postwar depression of Twenties Germany and, like the Griffith film, treats the cold economic reality of that depression as if it were a villainous character in a melodrama.  Griffith’s direction portrays his characters’ environment as a looming monster….  Borzage’s film also shows the depression melodramatically in terms of its effect on a young couple ‘all but submerged by the cruelties of the depression’.  But, where Griffith uses the environment to physically threaten his characters, Borzage abstracts the forces that threaten his characters, concerning himself more with the spirit of depression than with its reality. …

“When Lammchen appears, the film comes to life.  Borzage’s startlingly exciting cuts to her in close-up–she seems to come out of nowhere–introduce us to an amazing source of positive energy, counterbalancing the negative forces around the couple.  The abruptness of her close-up introduction, magnified by Margaret Sullavan’s radiant expression, seems to jolt Hans out of his momentary despair.  Later, at the doctor’s, when Hans answers the nurse’s questions about his parents by telling her that his father died of ‘war,’ he starts to drift away, apparently thinking about his father’s death and the tragedies of the late war.  Lammchen’s emergence from the doctor’s office, like her first appearance, recalls him from his melancholic despondency.  Lammchen’s mysteriously redemptive presence offsets the destructive forces of the rain, the men in the street and the depression that grew out of the past war.  In the face of the problems that surround them, she embodies, literally (because of her pregnancy) and figuratively, new hope for the future. …

“It is the cynicism and negative quality of these characters (Kleinholz, Mia Pinneberg, etc.) that threaten Hans and Lammchen, not the physical fact of economic depression.  Only Lammchen’s radiant presence gives Hans the strength and courage to transcend his bleak environment.  The birth of their child at the end of the film–the infant, like Lammchen earlier, is shown in solft, ethereal close-ups–symbolises their triumph over life’s negativity through their creation of a new, pure, positive being whose redemptive power lies in the fact that it is nothing but life itself.”

Notes by Jaan Salk

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