A Farewell to Arms, the best. It also happens to be the furthest from its source, with Borzage eschewing the cold, hard masculinity of Hemingway's prose in favour of his own sensual and passionate romanticism. So never the most natural of bedfellows then, yet they revealed hidden parts of each other here: Borzage brought out the essential melodrama of Hemingway's story while Hemingway gave Borzage some of his richest, most ambiguous characters. Gary Cooper never played a stranger hero. His Frederick, a doting drunk, a deserter and (some would be right to argue) a rapist, falls in love with English nurse Catherine (Helen Hayes) while stationed in Italy during the First World War I.
As with many Borzage films, their love comes at terrible physical cost, as Frederick is injured in battle and Catherine is dying of hunger and loneliness. Borzage was enamoured by the idea that love can overcome war and famine, and become a form of faith; or that love can be eternal, beyond death, because then their romance is at its most mystifying, and their journey at its most transcendental. He was at once the most physical of film-makers and one who did so much of his work on the surface. The seductive cinematography by Charles Lang has the unmistakable, felt-like sheen of young love, integrating an intense and dreamlike kind of naturalism and expressionism, as if the action were festooned in another world. It's only the macho realism embedded by Hemingway that keeps it from floating away, but A Farewell to Arms is truly and ineffably Borzage's film: a romantic melodrama at its most rapturous and sublime.
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