13 Not-So-Depressing Facts About A Farewell to Arms

Although it seems tame by today’s standards, Ernest Hemingway’s novel about love and loss during World War I created quite a stir when it came out in 1929. Critics hounded Hemingway for writing about retreating armies, corpse-strewn battlefields and other inglorious realities of war, and for featuring a young soldier who deserts and runs off with a recently widowed nurse. Morality quibbles have fallen aside with time (well, mostly), and nowadays A Farewell to Arms stands as a classic antiwar novel. Here, we look at the story behind the story, and the controversy it kicked up nearly 100 years ago.

1. THE TITLE COMES FROM A 16TH CENTURY POEM.

George Peele’s poem channels a knight’s lament at being too old to bear arms for his queen (Queen Elizabeth I, in this case). Hemingway’s title is an ironic reference, then, since his protagonist, Frederic, shirks his duty as a deserter.

2. HEMINGWAY DREW UPON HIS OWN EXPERIENCES DURING WWI...

In 1918, Hemingway left Kansas City for the European front. Like Frederic, he served as an ambulance driver in Italy, and was injured in a mortar attack along the Austrian border after just a month of service. He spent six months convalescing at a hospital in Milan. For a year or so after the war, Hemingway pecked away at an autobiographical novel, tentatively titled Along with Youth, but eventually gave it up. He also published two stories—one about his bouts with insomnia titled “Now I Lay Me,” and another called “In Another Country”—that scholars now believe laid the groundwork for A Farewell to Arms.

3. ...INCLUDING FALLING IN LOVE WITH A NURSE NAMED AGNES.

While in the hospital in Milan, the 19-year-old Hemingway fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse who was seven years older than him. The two planned to marry in America after Hemingway recovered, but shortly after returning home he received a letter in which she told him she was engaged to an Italian officer. Their relationship is the basis for the classic (ahem) Sandra Bullock-Chris O’Donnell film, In Love and War.

4. BUT MUCH OF IT COMES FROM GOOD-OLD-FASHIONED RESEARCH.

Many readers assume that Hemingway’s detailed description of the Italian retreat from Caporetto, and of places like Gorizia and Pava, came from personal experience. But because he’d spent most of his time in Italy confined to a hospital bed, the former Kansas City Star reporter engaged in methodical research, including interviews. Scholars note that he’s accurate down to the finest detail.

5. BACH INSPIRED HEMINGWAY’S WRITING.

Hemingway’s frequent use of the conjunction “and” came by way of the famous composer. Years after the publication of A Farewell to Arms, he wrote that he used the word for its rhythmic quality, as a “conscious imitation of the way Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach used a note in music when he was emitting counterpoint.”

6. HE WROTE WHILE ON THE ROAD, FROM PARIS TO PIGGOTT, ARKANSAS.

During the 15 months it took him to write and revise A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway spent time in Paris, Kansas City, Wyoming and at his wife Pauline’s family home in Piggott, Ark. He looked over proofs in Key West and corrected galleys of the book while in Spain.

7. HE REVISED THE ENDING NEARLY 50 TIMES.

Hemingway was a consummate editor, revising the previous day’s work every morning before beginning anything new. But even by his standards, the number of times he wrote and re-wrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms is extreme. There’s a new edition that includes all of the alternate endings, compiled by Hemingway’s grandson Seán. They include one in which Catherine and the baby both live, and one that might be even more depressing than the one that made the cut: “Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”

8. HEMINGWAY’S EDITOR READ THE MANUSCRIPT ON A FISHING TRIP WITH HIM.

Hemingway’s longtime editor Maxwell Perkins traveled down to Key West in January 1929 to fish for tarpon and discuss the writer’s almost-finished novel. The New York-based Perkins was not an outdoorsman, and wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald that “I might leave a leg with a shark, or do worse.” He later reported having a fine time and was enthusiastic about A Farewell to Arms. Upon returning to New York, he secured $16,000 from Scribner’s to serialize the novel—the most the magazine had ever paid for a serialized work.

9. HE REJECTED EDITS FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD.

Hemingway sent a draft of A Farewell to Arms to Fitzgerald, but when the Great Gatsby author wrote back with 10 pages of notes, Hemingway responded, "Kiss my ass." This was typical of the sarcastic, contentious relationship the two enjoyed. In a 1927 letter, Fitzgerald poked fun at Hemingway’s dashing, hard-living lifestyle, asking him, “Just before you pass out next time think of me.”

10. THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT WAS CENSORED.

Hemingway wanted to faithfully reproduce the way soldiers talked in wartime. But colorful language like “son of a bitch,” “Jesus Christ,” and “whorehound,” Perkins knew, wouldn’t go over well with Scribner’s mainstream audience. Hemingway didn’t want the words taken out, so Perkins inserted dashes in place of the offending language. Scribner’s editor Robert Bridges ended up deleting many of the words altogether. Even with these changes, readers canceled their subscriptions and railed against the novel’s “vile language.” Frustrated by the whole ordeal, Hemingway re-inserted the words by hand in a few copies, one of which he gave to James Joyce.

11. IT WAS BANNED IN BOSTON...

Police chief Michael H. Crowley ordered that the Scribner’s issue be banned from bookstands throughout the city, citing the book’s “salacious” love affair between Frederic and Catherine. In a letter to readers, Scribner’s stood behind its decision to publish, calling Crowley’s actions “improper” and defending Hemingway’s work as “distinctly moral.”

12. ... AND IN ITALY.

Hemingway had a feeling his portrayal of the Italian retreat from Caporetto wouldn’t go over too well with that country’s officials. He even wrote a disclaimer that appeared with the second installment in Scribner’s emphasizing it was a work of fiction. Nevertheless, Italy banned A Farewell to Arms until 1948, and officials were also able to influence the 1932 film version.

13. ONE REVIEWER CALLED IT “VENEREAL FICTION.”

“The obvious purpose of the story,” the critic, cited in Scott Donaldson’s New Essays on A Farewell to Arms, wrote, “is to offer a vicarious satisfaction to those who are either too jaded or too timid to get the satisfaction in a normal way through natural experiences.” Talk about an early 20th-century burn.

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
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Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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