Friday, 26 September 2014

For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)




This adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's Spanish Civil War epic novel For Whom The Bell Tolls suffers from being heavily sanitized (removing much of the political message in a manner which I think, if watched now by someone wholly ignorant of 30s Spain, would leave people confused and in the dark) and unnecessarily overlong at 170 minutes (it feels like an eternity when watched on TV complete with ad breaks!) but remains likeable enough. 




Gary Cooper's capable screen persona may mean that Hemingway's hero, US college professor turned International Brigade soldier Robert Jordan, loses some of the intensity (and youth) on display in the book but he remains, as ever, an enjoyable enough lead nonetheless. 



Ingrid Bergman looks stunning with her curly sunkissed locks, her olive tan and wide teary pale blue eyes, but her María seems to happy for the horrors she has endured, which again is the fault of the sanitised Hays Code era the film was made. 



It's a shame that the interesting relationship Hemingway depicted on the page - along with its characters preoccupation with mortality - is all but excised to become a more traditional and therefore jarring boy meets girl tale on the screen, albeit one that occurs whilst hiding out in the guerrilla camps of the Spanish hills, waiting to blow up a bridge.




The Spanish guerrillas are played by the likes of Akim Tamiroff, Mikhail Rasumny, Arturo de Córdova and Katina Paxinou to name but a few, the latter securing an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress - the film's only win despite featuring in all the major categories. The characterisations are drawn well enough, though perhaps suffer from the Hollywoodisation of such amiable peasant roles; all comic relief and strong spirits, but its perhaps in director Sam Wood's assured visual style that they flourish and impress the most, capturing their dark, dirty and rugged features peering out with determination for the cause from the depths of the caves like figures from classic oil paintings.




Ultimately For Whom The Bell Tolls is more indicative of the time the film was made than the novel and its themes itself.



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