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A Bell for Adano

A Bell for Adano(1945)

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A Bell for Adano (1945)

John Hersey's extensive work as a correspondent for Time and Life magazines during World War II produced a number of books but none with the worldwide fame of his 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Bell for Adano. Twentieth Century-Fox paid $85,000 for the screen rights to the book and guaranteed the author a bonus of 20 cents per copy sold (not to exceed a total of $15,000). All in all, it was a rather generous offer for a property that came with a certain amount of baggage and red tape.

The story concerns Italian-American U.S. Army Major Victor Joppolo, placed in charge of the town of Adano during the campaign in Sicily, and his efforts to replace the 700-year-old bell that was taken from the town by the Fascists to be melted down for ammunition. In Hersey's book, Joppolo also tries to alleviate the hardships placed on the townspeople by his hard-nosed, dictatorial commanding officer. Under the purchase agreement with Fox, Hersey was given 90 days to get War Department approval for his story to be adapted to the screen. Officials were worried the film would carry over the novel's unflattering portrait of the unlikable general, so Hersey failed to meet his deadline. The studio intervened, changing the story enough to get clearance. According to an article in the New York Times, the War Department was pleased to find that "the inconveniences suffered by the townspeople in the film were presented as the natural consequences of war, and not the result of any one person."

That wasn't the end of the trouble, however. Hersey based his novel on the real-life experiences of Frank Toscani, the military governor of the Sicilian town of Licata, which became Adano in the book. War reporter Hersey had visited him in Licata for several days and learned of Toscani's replacement of the bell. There was one detail the author created for his fictional account, however, that didn't sit well with the married officer--an affair with a beautiful Italian woman. In February 1946, Toscani sued Fox, Hersey, and Hersey's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, for $225,000, along with producer Leland Hayward and playwright Paul Osborn, who were responsible for a Broadway version of the novel. The suit claimed irreparable damage to Toscani's reputation, not only from the romantic affair but because he was shown countermanding orders from his superior. In November 1946, an appellate course dismissed the suit on the grounds that the law was not "intended to give a living person cause...for damages based on the mere portrayal of acts and events concerning a person designated fictitiously in a novel or play."

According to the Hollywood Reporter around the time of preproduction, the studio had considered actors as widely divergent as Dana Andrews, Gary Cooper, and James Cagney for the lead. They settled instead on John Hodiak, who had not as yet been the lead in a major motion picture, although he had received good notices for his work in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944). Following that, he played another soldier in a warm homefront drama, Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944), opposite his soon-to-be wife, Anne Baxter. Hodiak proved to be a good choice for the role of Joppolo, earning praise from New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as "excellent...firm and unquestionably sincere, with just the right shades of emotion in his responses to human problems."

Top billing went to Gene Tierney, whose career had just been given a major boost as the title character in the superb thriller Laura (1944). Despite her miscasting as a blonde Sicilian, Tierney's career ascent continued with A Bell for Adano. Just six months later, she gave her best performance in the twisted thriller Leave Her to Heaven (1945), for which she received her only Academy Award nomination.

The film was produced between late November 1944 and early January 1945, with location work at Brent's Crag, Calif. Its director was Henry King, who would establish a long reputation for successfully bringing popular novels and true stories to the screen, among them Stanley and Livingstone (1939), The Song of Bernadette (1943), Wilson (1944), Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1957), and Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night (1962).

In addition to the Broadway play, which starred Fredric March, there have been several other versions of the story. In a 1955 Lux Video Theatre adaptation, Edmond O'Brien had the lead, with a young Charles Bronson playing the part William Bendix took in the movie. Barry Sullivan and Anna Maria Alberghetti were in a 1956 CBS telecast, and John Forsythe played the major in a 1967 Hallmark Hall of Fame broadcast.

The cast contains, in a small role as Zito, one of the villagers, the Paris-born actor Marcel Dalio, once a major player in French cinema (La Grande Illusion, 1937; Rules of the Game, 1939). A Jew, Dalio fled France during the war and played supporting roles in such Hollywood films as Casablanca (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and To Have and Have Not (1944). He returned to France after the war and worked steadily all over the world, including on American TV, until shortly before his death in 1983.

Director: Henry King
Producers: Louis D. Lighton, Lamar Trotti
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti, Norman Reilly Raine, based on the novel by John Hersey
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: Barbara McLean
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Art Direction: Mark-Lee Kirk, Lyle Wheeler
Cast: Gene Tierney (Tina Tomasino), John Hodiak (Major Joppolo), William Bendix (Sgt. Borth), Glenn Langan (Lt. Livingstone), Richard Conte (Nicolo)

By Rob Nixon

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