Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)




 “A man fights for what he believes in”

            When I reviewed The Snows of Kilimanjaro I said I will never have a desire to read an Ernest Hemmingway story. Well let me back track and say that I am maybe now willing to read one of his stories after watching For Whom the Bell Tolls. My new open mindedness to read a Hemmingway story is most likely connected to the fact that Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper excellently played the lead characters.
            Many of Hemmingway’s stories have their plots set during the time of or taking place in the Spanish Civil War. For Whom the Bell Tolls has an American man named Robert Jordan (Cooper) who works with the International Brigade to help republican guerillas in the mountains. He is given an assignment to blow up a bridge since he is an expert in the use of explosive. Robert, or “Roberto” as the Spaniards call him, is lead to a republican hideout in the mountains where he is to wait until he feels it is the right time to blow up the bridge.
            Many of the men take to Robert right away. The one person who has greatly taken to him is a young woman named Maria (Bergman) and he feels the same toward her. They fall in love even though they know there is much danger ahead. One person who poses great danger is man named Pablo who is hostile towards Robert and nasty to the other fighters around him. Even Pablo’s wife Pilar is not happy with him at all. Pilar is a strong woman with more courage and more fight in her than all the people around her.
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            Robert plans for weeks on how and when to blow up the bridge. Just a short time before the day the bridge is to be destroyed the loyalists send troops around the mountains. The guerillas begin to fight drawing attention towards them. The fighting threatens the plan of the explosion. A paper is confiscated off one of the dead republicans that Robert had drawn of the bridge and given to one of the generals. The bridge does explode and almost everyone makes it out.
            One of the central themes of the story is death. Many of the characters including Robert contemplate death. Robert knows that by taking the mission to blow up the bridge he is going to die. Every one of the characters have a very tragic encounter with death during their country’s Civil War. Maria’s parents were killed, she was taken prisoner, and her head shaven (her short hair represents the three months it has been since her hair was shaved). A character named Joaquin lost his family as well and follows an older man who is like his father. Maria and some of the other characters surround Joaquin and tell him that they are his family. Although the plot and story are grim like many of Hemmingway’s other stories it is very good and the characters are very well written
            There is nothing awful with any of the performances in the film they are all incredible. Ingrid Bergman is just total perfection as always the more I see of her the more I am convinced she never ever gave a bad performance. She was just acting perfection. Maria is supposed to be a young, tragic girl in love and Bergman just nailed it. I like Gary Cooper but I have only ever seen him in bits and pieces of films before this. Cooper was also a very excellent actor I cannot pin down what makes him a great actor he just was. Bergman and Cooper made a great couple they looked and acted so amazing together. For Whom the Bell Tolls was filmed in Technicolor and I cannot tell you how gorgeous Cooper and Bergman looked in color. Their eyes were gorgeous and the glamour lighting on Bergman just made her even more beautiful.  
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            One very interesting trivia about Ingrid Bergman for this film is that she had to cut her hair really short which Hemmingway told her and she said “To get the part I’d cut my head off.” She was pretty safe because the author insisted that she get the role along with Gary Cooper. There became a problem though because Bergman had just finished filming Casablanca. Warner Bros. wanted to take out “As Time Goes By” and in order to do that they would have had to cut out the part where Bergman asks Sam to play it and she hums it. Well thank goodness her hair was cut because there would have been an issue with continuity even if she had a wig. I cannot even imagine Casablanca without “As Time Goes By” so I highly thank Hemmingway for having created his lead female character with short hair and insisting that Bergman play Maria.
            For Whom the Bell Tolls is a very good film. I was not sure if I would like it even if Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper were the leads. But once the film started and I saw how pretty it was in Technicolor and once they story got going I liked it. This is a fabulously made classic film from the direction, acting, color, and scenery. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a classic film not to be missed.