“In Love and War” is the true story of Ernest Hemingway and his romance with a nurse in WWI Italy. The movie is based on the book “Hemingway in Love and War” by Henry Villard and James Nagel. Villard was in the hospital with Hemingway and is a character in the movie. The film covers a relationship that would strongly affect his personality and writing. He wrote ten short stories with references to his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky and she is a character in his famous novel “A Farewell to Arms”. The movie was directed by Richard Attenborough. Sandra Bullock worked for a paltry $11 million. That apparently left little for the rest of the cast.
The movie is set in Italy on the war front with Austria from July, 1918 until Hemingway’s return to America. A title card tells us that President Wilson sent the American Red Cross to Europe. One volunteer was Ernie Hemingway who was a newspaper reporter at the time. But first we are introduced to a nurse named Agnes. The head nurse tells her “no fraternization allowed”. Do you think that rule might come up? A brief taste of combat depicts some graphic wounds to set up the hospital scenes. Agnes meets a cocky American named Ernie. He runs off to the front to get wounded so he can see her again. Mission accomplished. Agnes is seven years older than Ernie, but he is persistent. The usual “he knows she’s in love with him before she does” trope is used. Also typical of the genre is the love triangle complicating matters. Actually, in this case it’s a quadrangle. Ernie’s buddy Henry (Mackenzie Astin) is interested in Agnes in a competitive sort of way and the Italian doctor who agrees to avert amputation takes a shine to her as well. Even though this is not a romantic comedy, it still insists on the break-up scene. Have no fear – Ernie is persistent. Queue the romantic music swelling. Watch for Sandy’s butt. Ernie returns home assured that Agnes will be joining him for wedded bliss. Keep in mind that this is a romance, not a romantic comedy.
“In Love and War” is about Ernest Hemingway, but it is not written by him. I’m not sure he would have been impressed with it. The dialogue is decidedly unHemingwayesque. It is an average movie and if it was not something of a history lesson about a great writer, it would not be worth the watch. The production values are those of a made-for-TV movie and the acting is mediocre. O’Donnell is amateurish, but Bullocks is fine as the jaded nurse. She is certainly not her usual bubbly screen persona. She does seem uncomfortable playing the older woman. There is little chemistry between the leads.
The movie is not really a war movie. I would classify it as a romance set in a war. There is a very brief combat scene and some coverage of military medicine. Some scenes in the MASH unit resemble the famous comedy without the laughs. The hospital scenes are stock and include the amputee that takes his own life.
SPOILER ALERT: Ernest Hemingway did volunteer for the ambulance corps from his journalism job. He was swayed by patriotic pleas. He did get sent to Italy and was wounded early on when he was visiting the front line. The wound was actually from shrapnel from a mortar. He did meet Henry Villard and Agnes von Kurowsky in the hospital. Villard was not a romantic rival and in fact was unaware of the heat. A romance did develop and marriage was planned when they were reunited in America, according to Hemingway. Von Kurowsky insisted later that it was a flirtation and never consummated. Agnes wrote to Hemingway informing him that he was being jilted for an Italian doctor. That relationship fell through and Agnes returned to the United States, but she and Ernie never met again. Ernie never forgot her as she influenced his writing career (Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms” is based on her) and his personal life. Hemingway married four times and abandoned each wife before they could abandon him. Or so psychologists analyze it.
GRADE = C-