On July 2, 1961, in the small Idaho town of Ketchum, a legendary author took his own life. The author was Ernest Hemingway, whose own life experiences inspired some of his greatest and most well-known work. Like any other classic author, Hemingway saw his work get adapted for the silver screen. Some adaptations fared better than others, with a few getting Oscar attention. There’s even one Hemingway film significant enough in the sense that it ended the career of a producer. Here’s a breakdown of the Hemingway cinema:
A FAREWELL TO ARMS
The first version of this WWI-set love story came out in 1932, just three years after the book’s release. Gary Cooper (nearly a decade before his Oscar-winning Sergeant York) was the Hemingway-inspired soldier, with Oscar winner Helen Hayes playing the nurse he loves. It landed a Best Picture nomination, and won 2 Oscars for its photography and sound.
In 1957, a quarter-century after the first Farewell, legendary producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind) decided to bring it back to the screen. It had notable leading stars in Rock Hudson and Oscar winner Jennifer Jones, and even the great Italian director Vittorio de Sica starred as Hudson’s friend (he even earned an Oscar nod for his efforts). Yet the film was a critical and financial failure, and Selznick would never produce another film.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
Cooper made his second Hemingway-based film in 1943 (three years after the book’s release), starring as Robert Jordan opposite Ingrid Bergman; Hemingway reportedly chose them as the leading stars. Despite its nearly three-hour running time, the film was a success – even though the author didn’t like how he felt the novel’s political message was overshadowed. It received 9 Oscar nominations, including nods for Cooper, Bergman and the picture – with little-known Katina Paxinou scoring the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as an unexpected guerrilla leader.
Of all of Hemingway’s stories, this 1927 short story about two hitmen hired to kill a boxer had three different versions – all extremely diverse in the way the story is told. The first version released in 1946 was presented as a film noir with Burt Lancaster in his first film playing the tragic boxer. While the film presents Hemingway’s short story right off the top, the rest of the story is a typical noir story – not included in the author’s original text.
Ten years later, in 1956, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris) co-directed a short film version that could be the most successful version. This adaptation is just the short story with no other filler, even if the language is Russian.
Another full-length version found its way to theaters in 1964, with Don Siegel (one of Clint Eastwood’s great mentors) at the helm. Starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Ronald Reagan (in what would be his last film before his political rise), it’s another adaptation in which Hemingway’s work only serves as a backing to a different, original story.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA
Hemingway’s 1952 novella about an aging man’s difficult fight with a marlin gave Spencer Tracy a virtuoso role in 1958. Under the directing of John Sturges, Tracy earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Santiago; the film also earned composer Dimitri Tiomkin the best original score statuette. No other adaptations would come, save for a 1999 animated short by Russian filmmaker Alexander Petrov (an Oscar winner).
THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO
Hemingway’s 1936 short adventure about a dying writer’s memories while on safari in Africa got the 20th Century Fox treatment in 1952, with Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner leading the cast. There are two notable items attached to this film: Gardner’s character of one of the women Peck falls for was written just for the film, and unlike the story, the ending had a different feel.
THE SUN ALSO RISES
Henry King (the 1944 biopic Wilson), who directed Kilimanjaro, looked to Hemingway again for the 1957 adaptation of Hemingway’s European-inspired novel. Gardner also returned to the great writer’s work playing Lady Brett Ashley, opposite Tyrone Power’s journalist Jake Barnes. They also get Mel Ferrer and the great Errol Flynn as co-stars. And there was no need for backlots on this film – France and Spain were the film’s main locations, and it didn’t hurt to include two bullfights and the iconic Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT
This 1944 adventure was one of the more successful Hemingway adaptations, which may be weird considering just a portion of his original novel was ultimately used. Despite this, the author reportedly helped director Howard Hawks in shaping the film’s eventual plot and changes of settings & characters. It also didn’t hurt to have one of Hollywood’s great couples in Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the first of 4 films. This film also had one of Bacall’s greatest lines, which she refers to whistling. If you know the line and its reference, what else needs to be said?
The novel had two other adaptations – 1950’s The Breaking Point (with John Garfield) and 1958’s The Gun Runners (with Audie Murphy, helmed by Don Siegel). Yet with Bogart and Bacall, combined with another legendary author in William Faulkner as co-writer, this was one of the more successful Hemingway films.
So an author whose life came to a seemingly premature end 50 years ago somehow manages to inspire an intriguing body of film work – and one to be debated.