Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man: Martin Ritt’s Starring Paul Newman and Richard Beymer

One of the last, “prestige” films of producer Jerry Wald, “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man,” is a long, rambling, disappointing work from Martin Ritt.

The film (aka “Adventures of a Young Man”) was based on ten of Ernest Hemingway’s autobiographical “Nick Adams” stories, and included sequences from his novel, “A Farewell to Arms” (made into a Hollywood movie twice, in 1932 and in 1957).

A.E. Hotchner, who wrote the screenplay, had been the official chronicler of the novelist until his death, in 1961.

Up-and-coming star Richard Beymer was cast as the young Nick Adams. Beymer had previously played the lead in the musical “West Side Story” and in another Wald production, “The Stripper,” opposite Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman’s wife.

Ultimately, Beymer was miscast as the energetic, curious, and macho Hemingway, who in 1917 left his Wisconsin home to seek more exciting life, and got involved in various adventures.

Thrown off a train by a brakeman (Edward Binns) Adams encounters the old prizefighter (Newman) and his manager (Juano Hernandez).

Paul Newman

This was Paul Newman’s third picture with director Martin Ritt.  Newman, then a major star, agreed to play the cameo but splashy role of The Battler, a punch-drunk pug, which was a reprise of his 1955 TV appearance in a Hemingway short story.

Wearing heavy make-up to look like a battered pug, Newman, then in his late 30s, gave a solid performance as the Battler, a pathetic has-been of the ring who wasn’t smart enough to quit when he was ahead.  He has gone downhill, from stardom in the ring to second-rate bouts to prison to punch-drunk panhandling to a pathetic man dependent on his only pal.

In one memorable scene, the old pug and Adams sit and talk over food, and his stupefied brain wanders as he makes swinging gestures in the air and mumbles incoherently.

The rambling film follows Nick Adams on his encounters, including a meeting with a kind telegraph operator (James Dunn), who dissuades him from weakening and wiring his father for return-home money.  He then becomes an aide to a drunken press agent (Dan Dailey) and replaces him on a journey to New York.  In the big city, he tries for a writing career, but is rebuffed in his efforts.

Adams then goes to Europe, signing on with the Italian Army on the World War I Austrian front. As ambulance driver, he is wounded while saving the life of his commanding officer (Ricardo Montalban) .  While convalescing, he falls in love with his nurse (Susan Strasberg), but she is wounded and dies during a bedside wedding to Nick.

Returning to the U.S. Adams is given a hero’s welcome back in Wisconsin but his homecoming is marred by the news of the suicide of his father (Arthur Kennedy).  The possessiveness of his strong-willed mother (Jessica Tandy) alienates him and he leaves home, this time to seek his manhood in greater adventures.

Newman captures the man’s life with a strong characterization, based on stance, gesture and vocal tone. Juano Hernandez was also effective as his faithful sidekick.