For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)

Author: Dr. Mandar V. Bichu

For Whom The Bell Tolls
Year: 1943
Dir: Sam Wood
Cast: Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Katrina Paxinou, Akim Tamiroff

This screen adaptation of Earnest Hemingway’s famous novel was released in 1943- in the midst of the raging World War II. The film is supposed to be a great love-story on the backdrop of a war but cinematically it simply doesn’t have enough power and magic to be ranked in the same masterpiece- bracket as Casablanca- another war-themed love-story featuring the same heroine (Ingrid Bergman) and released just a year before!
Despite these reservations, there is enough drama, emotion, suspense and technical finesse in this near three hour-long classic film to keep the movie-buffs interested. The film tells the story of Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper)- an idealist American college-teacher who has turned into a mercenary demolition expert, in order to help the Spanish Republican guerillas, who are fighting underground battles on multiple fronts against the German, Italian, Russian and Spanish Nationalist forces.
Jordan’s latest mission is to blow a strategically important bridge joining two mountainous cliffs. He has got three days to achieve that mission and he has to time it to perfection, blowing it just when the opposite army’s offensive starts! As Jordan tries to plan his mission with the help from a rebel group hiding in the nearby mountains, he comes across many interesting characters like Pablo – a once brave-but-now treacherous guerilla band-leader; Pilar- Pablo’s none-too-pretty, headstrong wife and Maria- a teenager refugee. Amidst conflicting personalities and contrasting viewpoints an unlikely torrid love- affair develops between Robert and Maria! Will Maria’s love come in the way of Robert’s duty? Will the mission be achieved in the increasingly adverse conditions?
By 1943-standards, the movie seems technically too advanced. The spectacular color cinematography captures the beauty and fury of the mountainous terrains in full splendor and even the war scenes are convincing in detail. The chemistry between the lead pair- a strong and silent Cooper and a vivacious and impulsive Bergman is great. But even more appealing are the well-nuanced character roles of Paxinou (Pilar) and Tamiroff (Pablo). Despite many positives, the movie’s slow pace and laboured narrative takes away the edge and that’s what prevents it from being acknowledged as a true classic.

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