Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Where to start? With me, I guess. I love Hemingway, especially his short stories, particularly the collection In Our Time which can be read as a short story cycle about a young man coming of age. Many of the stories in that collection name the central figure as Nick Adams and it's generally accepted that even the stories with a differently named character (such as "Soldier's Home" with Harold Krebs) can be read as being about Nick Adams. This film is essentially a cobbling-together of the In Our Time stories into one episodic narrative, and as such it largely duplicates the experience of reading the collection in one sitting. I have avoided this movie for years because of the truism that movies are never as good as the books they're based on. This is certainly no substitution for reading the original stories, and there is a substantial loss of dramatic tension in the last half, but it's not horrible—faint praise, I know...

Nick (Richard Beymer, pictured) grows up in the woods of Michigan with a sensitive, passive father (Arthur Kennedy) and overbearing mother (Jessica Tandy). We see the father, a doctor, heading over to an Indian settlement to tend to a difficult birth, despite the fact that the husband (Simon Oakland) has earlier humiliated Dr. Adams in front of Nick. While drinking with a buddy (Michael J. Pollard) during a windstorm, Nick decides to leave town and ride the rails by himself. He spends some time with a banged-up, washed-up boxer (an unrecognizable Paul Newman, below with Beymer) who is tended to, with obvious love and devotion, by his former manager (Juano Hernandez); Nick later becomes an assistant to another washed-up fellow, a promoter of burlesque shows (Dan Dailey). In New York City, Nick tries to get a job as reporter, but is told he doesn't have enough life experience, so he signs up with an ambulance corps in Italy and is promptly wounded. In the hospital, he falls in love with his nurse but she is gravely wounded during a bombing raid; he gets a priest to marry them on her deathbed, but she dies in his arms. Back in Michigan, Nick gets a hero's welcome but also finds that his father committed suicide. Unable to live with his mother, he leaves once again for New York hoping he has enough experience to make his way.

I assumed that Richard Beymer (Tony in WEST SIDE STORY) would be the biggest problem; he was a scrawny, mannered actor who rarely brought much force to his roles, but he's actually OK here as the somewhat passive central figure. The nature of the film's structure means that none of the other actors is on screen for very long, but they all do what they can. Newman and Hernandez are the most memorable, and Kennedy and Tandy are perfect as the parents. The Italy sequence, shot on location—and based in part on Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms—is impressive in terms of production values, but weak dramatically, despite a good performance from Ricardo Montalban as a friend of Nick's. It's telling that the first half, full of short, disjointed episodes, comes off better than the second half which is more a single piece. [TCM]

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