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For Whom the Bell Tolls
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For Whom The Bell Tolls,For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway had brought the Spanish American War to vivid life in his 1940 novel. With the book's impressive sales, Hollywood came calling, but though the film version came up short politically, it certainly scored points on the romantic scale. It also helped add Hemingway's description of a night of passion, "the earth moved," to the national vocabulary.

With several studios bidding for film rights, Hemingway chose Paramount, not just for their $150,000 offer, but because his friend Gary Cooper, on whom he had based the novel's leading man, was under contract there. Initially, Cecil B. De Mille was supposed to direct, but as the writing dragged on for three years, the project passed to Sam Wood, who had just scored a hit directing Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees (1942).

Choosing a leading lady proved a major issue. Ingrid Bergman desperately wanted to play Maria, convinced the role would establish her as a major dramatic actress. She met Hemingway and impressed him as the best choice for the role. But somebody at Paramount - nobody will accept responsibility - decided to give the role to Vera Zorina, a ballet dancer under contract there at the time. Rumors suggest she was having an affair with somebody at the top (she was married to choreographer George Balanchine at the time). Just as likely is the fact that her salary was considerably lower than the fee Paramount would have had to pay for Bergman.

Instead of the career-making role in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Bergman had to settle for the lead in a minor World War II drama at Warner Bros. - Casablanca (1943). But as shooting for both films progressed, word came down from the For Whom the Bell Tolls locations in the Sierra Nevadas that Zorina was not working out. After three weeks of disastrous rushes, Bergman was called in to audition. She won the coveted role during the final days of shooting on Casablanca and quickly drove to the remote location. She also had her hair cut off for the role, a style that swept the nation.

Almost as much drama lay behind the casting of Pilar, the rebel leader's wife most critics considered the book's most vividly drawn character. Almost every character actress in Hollywood was tested, including British actress Flora Robson and Russian legend Alla Nazimova. The studio announced stage veteran Blanche Yurka for the role. Then they met Katina Paxinou, the first lady of the Greek stage. She had been on a U.S. tour when World War II hit her homeland, stranding her in the states. When she tested, she informed the executives that she came from three generations of guerillas in her native land. Not only did she win the role, but she pretty much stole the film from its Hollywood stars.

When For Whom the Bell Tolls opened, there was one thing missing from the picture - the story's politics. Francisco Franco's Fascists were the villains of Hemingway's story, but they had won the Spanish Civil War. Spain was neutral territory in World War II, and applied pressure on Paramount to re-write history. As a result, the film never clearly identifies Cooper and his allies as members of Spain's liberal Republicans or the enemies as Franco's soldiers. Instead the film focused on the love affair between Cooper and Bergman. Their electricity together was real. Bergman would later say that she fell hopelessly in love with him on location, though the relationship remained platonic.

The film's apolitical nature may have hurt it on Oscar® night, when it was up for nine awards but lost Best Picture to the decidedly partisan Casablanca. Cooper and Bergman were nominated, too, but both lost out. The film's only winner was Paxinou, who was named Best Supporting Actress. She brought politics back into the picture in her acceptance speech. First she praised the Allied soldiers who were "fighting for liberty and human dignity." Then she dedicated the award to her colleagues at the Royal Theatre of Athens. "I hope they are still alive," she said, "but I doubt it."

Producer: Buddy G. DeSylva (executive) uncredited, Sam Wood
Director: Sam Wood
Writing Credits: Ernest Hemingway (novel), Dudley Nichols
Production Design: William Cameron Menzies
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Film Editing: John Link, Sherman Todd
Original Music: Walter Kent, Victor Young
Cast: Gary Cooper (Robert Jordan), Ingrid Bergman (Maria), Katina Paxinou (Pilar), Akim Tamiroff (Pablo), Arturo de Cordova (Agustin), Vladimir Sokoloff (Anselmo), Mikhail Rasumny (Rafael), Fortunio Bonanova (Fernando), Yvonne De Carlo (Girl in Cafe).
C-170m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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