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Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ from 1952.

Mr. Movie: Ernest Hemingway movies

Part 1


A friend was telling me about visiting the Ernest Hemingway home in Key West and my mind turned (of course!) to movies. Could I dig out enough movies based on Hemingway works for a column? Actually, I could find enough for two columns and this is the first.


A Farewell To Arms (1932) starred heavy hitters Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper as star-crossed lovers during World War I. She is Catherine (Hayes), a nurse who meets Frederick (Cooper) when she cares for the wounded soldier. She becomes pregnant during their affair and in the original version she dies at the end. The film ran afoul not only of people wanting a happy ending but of The Code and was mercilessly chopped up. It’s still pretty good. The 1957 version is also quite good with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones as the lovers. Either film is a three-handkerchief event.


For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943) is another romantic story, this time during the Spanish Civil War. Gary Cooper is back as Robert Jordan, an American living in Spain as an English language teacher. Jordan joins the International Brigade, fighting against the Franco-led falangists. He is also an expert munitions expert specializing in dynamite. He is assigned to blow up a bridge behind enemy lines. En route, he meets Maria (Jennifer Jones) and sparks fly. The bridge is blown but the falangists chase the good guys. Jordan is grievously wounded but he mans a machine gun against the bad guys, allowing his companions (and Maria) to escape. This film got nine Oscar nominations, but only won for Supporting Actress (Katina Paxinou).


The Killers (1946) introduced filmdom to Burt Lancaster (The Swede), who is shot to death early in the film. Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) is an insurance investigator looking for the Swede’s life insurance beneficiary. His search uncovers the story of how the Swede left boxing because of an injured hand and fell into a life of crime. The plot involves a complicated heist and several double-crosses. The 1964 version isn’t quite as good. It features Lee Marvin and a guy named Reagan who might have a future in politics. The first part of the movie including the shooting are taken from a Hemingway story. The rest is not.


The Macomber Affair (1947) features Robert Preston as Macomber, an American on a Kenyan safari with his wife Margot (Joan Bennett) and their guide Robert Wilson (Gregory Peck). This ill-fated triangle winds up in a murder trial when Margot shoots her husband dead. Or maybe she was aiming at a charging water buffalo?


Back to Africa for The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) where Harry Street (Gregory Peck) lays dying at the base of the big mountain, suffering a slow demise from an infected thorn prick. A famous writer, he reminisces about his life and times, and is tended by Helen (Susan Hayward). One fine memory is of his first wife Cynthia (Ava Gardner), a character invented for this film.


In almost all of the movies the writers played fast and loose with Hemingway’s stories. Since he had sold the rights, there wasn’t much he could do about it. But at least he could spurn the lure of Hollywood as a script writer, because he refused to do that. Oh, and all of these films are for grown-ups.