For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

For Whom the Bell Tolls movie

Great books should make great films, isn’t that how it goes? That’s how it should go, most people reason. Hemingway’s finest novel (at least at that time, perhaps – some of us might beg to differ) about the Spanish Civil War got the A treatment at Paramount. The author himself hand-picked Ingrid Bergman to play Maria the abused guerilla fighter and Gary Cooper to play Robert Jordan the American college instructor volunteer who is being deployed to blow up a bridge to face off the fascists. The problem is, the screenplay by Dudley Nichols is a rackety thing that doesn’t entirely subscribe to Hemingway’s vision and in this version (130 minutes broadcast edition – there are THREE others!) it takes a whole hour to get going which means the structure is wrong. But then it REALLY gets going and never lets up. The romance between our mismatched pair ratchets several notches – Kiss me!  she dares him. You’re shameless! he retorts. I’ve never been a fan of Bergman but she gains a little in magnificence here. Cooper is probably the perfect Hemingway man. They have a double agent in the ranks and an army to fight off. The direction is okay by Sam Wood, who was directing the second of three (in a row) films with Cooper – the previous was The Pride of the Yankees (Cooper got an Academy Award), the next would be Casanova Brown. But what is amazing is the score by Victor Young which became the first soundtrack album. The strings are sweet and greatly underline the emotions. The Technicolor photography by Ray Rennahan is also notable even if it looks a little off these days. Not really great filmmaking, but eventually worth a look, especially for the pretty thickly cut ham from Katina Paxinou as Pilar the gypsy which earned her an Academy Award. Most people in the film got nominations and it was the biggest box office hit of the year.

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