Had she not been married to the producer, Jennifer Jones would not have been the most obvious choice for the leading female role in this tragic tale of an affair between an American soldier and an English nurse, set against the backdrop of the First World War. Her British accent is not perfect, and in the fifties it was unusual for a big romantic lead to go to an actress in her late thirties, even one as attractive as Miss Jones, especially when she was several years older than her leading man.. There were a number of beautiful young British actresses in Hollywood around this time, such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons and Joan Collins, any of whom might have been more convincing in the role, but Miss Jones had one important attribute they all lacked, namely a marriage certificate with David O. Selznick's name on it. In the event, the film turned out to be such a turkey that they were doubtless grateful not to have it on their CVs.
The film tells, at great length, the story of the romance between Frederick, an American volunteer serving with the Italian Army as an ambulance driver and Catherine, a nurse with the British Red Cross. After the Italian defeat at the battle of Caporetto, Frederick is wrongly accused of being a German spy and sentenced to death. (The film paints a very harsh picture of Italian military justice; it would appear that Italian Courts-Martial had the power to pass the death sentence after a trial lasting all of thirty seconds without hearing any evidence and without allowing the defendant to be legally represented or to speak in his defence). Frederick manages to escape and to cross the border into neutral Switzerland, accompanied by the pregnant Catherine.
Hemingway's novels have not always been a great success when filmed. Howard Hawks succeeded in making a good version of "To Have and have Not", a film that is considerably better than the book on which it is nominally based, but that is because he largely ignored Hemingway's plot and turned the film into a remake of "Casablanca", set in Martinique rather than French Morocco. Like the 1943 version of "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "A Farewell to Arms" is overlong and fatally slow moving. It is also miscast. Jennifer Jones never makes Catherine come to life. As for Rock Hudson, his assumed Christian name could be unfortunately appropriate. He could be as solid as a rock but also as impassive as one, and in this film his Frederick seems an impersonation of the Great Stone Face. Despite the passion and emotion inherent in Hemingway's plot, the emotional temperature is always far too cool. The picture has little going for it apart from some attractive picture-postcard views of Italian and Swiss scenery. It is hardly surprising that it was not a success and that its failure ended Selznick's career as a producer. 4/10
A goof. Shortly before the battle of Caporetto, an Italian officer states that Russia had already concluded a separate peace with Germany. That battle started in October 1917, at a time when Kerensky's Russia was still fighting alongside the Allies. The Russian Revolution did not take place until November; it was only the "October Revolution" by the old Julian calendar. The new Bolshevik regime signed an armistice with Germany in December 1917, but a separate peace was not signed until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918