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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

A Farewell To Arms (1932)



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Between the two world wars, several anti-war films were made that feel so alien to me. In just a few short years, all the platitudes about the futility and foolishness of war would go right out the window with a war that unequivocally needed fighting. With the benefit of hindsight, few 1930s war films hold up for me. All Quiet On the Western Front is one, Grand Illusion another. To see either puts soppy whining like A Farewell To Arms to shame.

I concede that the film is reasonably well-made, even if it drifts a bit too much toward the melodramatic. But how can I bring myself to care about these selfish people? The Gary Cooper character flees his duties at the front to search for the nurse he's in love with. Isn't war horrible, to get in the way of true love? Never mind the consequences to his comrades in arms, never mind the fate of the world, a romance is at stake!

A great film can be made that deals with this kind of moral quandary, that explores how war tears people apart, forcing their responsibilities to their country and to their loved ones to be at odds. A great film can be made about a character who chooses one over the other and suffers (or even embraces) the consequences. But it is not this film, which simply takes for granted that the character's actions fall within our sympathies and tries to build on that.

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