Pre-Code Crazy: A Farewell to Arms (1932)
On the surface, my Pre-Code crazy pick for this month doesn’t seem to have a whole heck of a lot of pre-Codiness going on. A Farewell to Arms (1932), based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway and starring Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper, tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers – an American ambulance driver and an English nurse – in World War I Italy.
Not exactly the stuff that pre-Code is typically made of, right?
But don’t let the setting, the time period, the uniforms, and the presence of pure-as-the-driven-snow Helen Hayes fool ya. Despite these elements, A Farewell to Arms still manages to pack a satisfactory pre-Code wallop. Here’re just a few of the pre-Cod-y characteristics of this feature.
Shirtless Gary Cooper
Not six minutes passes before Gary Cooper’s character – Frederic Henry – is out of his uniform and in all of his bare-chested glory. You’re welcome.
Terms of Endearment
Frederic is pals with Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), an Italian doctor with an ever-active eye for the ladies. In one scene, Rinaldi tells Frederic about a nurse he’s interested in, and asks to borrow money from Frederic so that he can impress her. “Thank you,” Rinaldi says when Frederic puts a few bills in his pocket. “You are my great and good friend, and financial protector.” To which Frederic blithely responds: “And you’re an ass.”
Sexy Meet Cute
Frederic is sitting in a local café, three sheets to the wind, holding a woman’s shoe in his hand while he converses with her bare foot about the virtues of architecture. When an air raid siren sounds, the café’s patrons run for cover, and shortly after Frederic seeks shelter in a small enclosure outside, he’s joined by a shoeless young woman clad only in her nightgown. Continuing his drunken diatribe from the café, Frederic grabs the young woman’s foot and proceeds to explain about the relationship between architecture and the arch of the foot. A scene or two later, we discover that this young woman and the nurse with whom Rinaldi is infatuated – Catherine Barkley (Hayes) – are one and the same. (Betcha can’t guess how long it takes Frederic to discover her unique charms for himself.)
Holy mackerel, what a line!
Frederic and Catherine go for a walk, and settle in a dimly lit wooded area. Catherine asks Frederic what he’s thinking, and he tells her he’s thinking of whiskey, and about how nice it is. “You’re nice, too,” he adds, before moving in for the kill – I mean, a kiss.
First Date Follies
Frederic and Catherine’s first kiss turns into much more. Although we don’t see it, of course, it’s apparent that the couple tapped first base, leapt over second, rounded third and went all the way home – if you get my drift.
You Give Me Fever
Frederic is wounded by a bomb blast and sent to the hospital in Milan where Catherine is working. When she learns he’s there, she pays a surreptitious visit to his room, gifting him with several passionate kisses before she departs. Seconds later, the head nurse arrives, and expresses concern over his temperature. “It’s a miracle you’re not delirious, with such a fever,” she exclaims. Frederic assures her that he doesn’t have a fever, then laughs impishly and allows his eyes to flicker, ever so quickly, toward his, shall we say, nether regions. “It’s not what you think,” he says. Whoa dere!
During a stroll with Frederic, Catherine inquires about the number of other women he has loved. “None,” he tells her. So she then asks, “How many have you . . . um . . . loved?” And when he again says there haven’t been any, Catherine says, “You’re lying to me. That’s right – you just keep on lying. That’s what I want you to do.”
I’m going to stop here – I don’t want to give away the whole movie! – but if you want to see some top-notch acting in an unusual but time-worthy pre-Code vehicle, be sure to tune in to TCM on April 7th for A Farewell to Arms.
You only owe it to yourself.
And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month!