Hemingway Biography on the Silver Screen: The Critical Reception of Richard Attenborough's Film, in Love and War

By Bittner, John R. | The Hemingway Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Hemingway Biography on the Silver Screen: The Critical Reception of Richard Attenborough's Film, in Love and War


Bittner, John R., The Hemingway Review


ALTHOUGH ERNEST HEMINGWAY DISLIKED many of the motion pictures produced from his novels and short stories, he could not deny that his characters were portrayed and directed by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Few actresses played Hemingway heroines with more theatrical skill than Helen Hayes as nurse Catherine Barkley in Frank Borzage's 1932 production of A Farewell to Arms, and while a relative newcomer to motion pictures, co-star Gary Cooper won both the approval of movie audiences and the praise of critics as Frederic Henry.

Cooper would later star as Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), with the popular Ingrid Bergman opposite him as Maria. The following year, Howard Hawks directed Humphrey Bogart as Harry Morgan and introduced Lauren Bacall as Marie Browning in To Have and Have Not. Burt Lancaster, later to become one of Hollywood's biggest draws, played Swede in The Killers (1946). In The Macomber Affair (1947), Robert Preston played Francis Macomber, alongside Gregory Peck as Robert Wilson. Peck appeared again as Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), co-starring Susan Hayward as Helen and Ava Gardner as Cynthia. Darryl F. Zanuck produced The Sun Also Rises (1957), with Tyrone Powers as Jake Barnes and Ava Gardner as Brett Ashley. That same year, Rock Hudson played as Frederic Henry in David O. Selznick's re-make of A Farewell to Arms, with Jennifer Jones as Catherine. Although the re-make did not enjoy the acclaim of the earlier version, no one could dispute Selznick's attempt to mix star power with scenic grandeur. In 1958, Spencer Tract portrayed the Old Man in Leland Hayward's production of The Old Man and the Sea. By 1977, when George C. Scott starred as Thomas Hudson in Islands in the Stream, Hemingway's works were firmly associated with Hollywood star power.

Had Hemingway been alive to learn that Sir Richard Attenborough would direct box-office stars Sandra Bullock and Chris O'Donnell ih New Line Cinema's 1996 adaptation of Henry S. Villard and James Nagel's biography, Hemingway in Love and War, he might have been apprehensive about the final product, but he could not have denied the celebrity status of the director and the stars. Not since the filming of such Hemingway works as The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and the two versions of A Farewell to Arms, had such a big budget, well-known director, and major stars been applied to a Hemingway epic.

New Line Cinema hoped In Love and War would increase its fortunes, help its bottom line, and add to its artistic prestige. The company's most recent success had been the film Dumb and Dumber, starring comedian Jim Carrey. Yet, as Claudia Eller and James Bates reported in the Los Angeles Times, New Line's market share had slipped from 6.6 of the industry's box office receipts a year earlier, to only 3.4 percent. The remedy to regain market share was what Gioia Diliberto in the New York Times called a "$40 million soap opera" the love story of Agnes von Kurowsky and Ernest Hemingway, provided by Dimitri Villard, son of Henry S. Villard, who had known both von Kurowsky and Hemingway in Italy. A Hollywood writer and producer, Dimitri Villard was a veteran of films such as the 1985 vampire comedy Once Bitten, starring the same Jim Carrey of Dumb and Dumber fame. For him, In Love and War was an opportunity not only to honor his father, but to work on a film of personal and professional importance--what Scott Collins of the Chicago Tribune called "the biggest coup" of Villard's "checkered career"

With Richard Attenborough as director and co-producer, a big budget, and big stars, expectations for the film's artistic and financial success were high. That Attenborough signed onto the project was not surprising. Billed as "Richard Attenborough's Film In Love and War" the motion picture was developed as a romantic epic, with strong literary and biographical under-pinnings. Some of Attenborough's best work had been With epic biographies and war-era pictures.

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