The Bells Go Down


1h 30m 1943

Brief Synopsis

London firemen fight to save the city during the Blitz.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
1943

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Comedian Tommy Trinder plays it straight in this tribute to the wartime AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service). The dedicated band who kept the fires of London under control during the blitz and fire bombings of WWII.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
1943

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Bells Go Down


The Bells Go Down (1943), the solo directorial debut of Ealing regular Basil Dearden, was based on the 1942 book entitled The Bells Go Down: the Diary of a London A.F.S. Man. It was anonymously authored but was actually written by Stephen Black, who is credited in the film as a consultant on the script. The film focuses on the Auxiliary Fire Service's heroic efforts during the Blitz, which took place mainly from September 1940 through May 1941. It was by no means the only film produced in England during this time that depicted the Auxiliary Fire Service; the same year, Humphrey Jennings released Fires Were Started (1943), one of the landmark works in the Great British documentary movement. In Jennings' film, fires were reconstructed using bombed-out buildings; Dearden's film uses a combination of staged fires, miniature models, rear projection and stock footage that is still fairly convincing today.

The Bells Go Down was also a prime example of Ealing Studios' contribution to the war effort. With the onset of war and the devastating Blitz by the Germans, the studio head Michael Balcon declared that he would produce "films of a character which will be of national use at this time." Today the best regarded of the Ealing wartime films are Went the Day Well? (1942) and San Demetrio London (1943). As the British film scholars Alan Burton and Tim O'Sullivan note, the "quiet heroism, cohesive groups and social harmony" depicted in such films played an important role in creating a public consensus on the war effort.

But while these films undeniably served as propaganda, they were by no means devoid of complexity. Burton and O'Sullivan add that The Bells Go Down touches upon--without undue emphasis--feelings of resentment between the London Fire Brigade and the new AFS recruits. The original book frankly mentions the widespread problem of looting, whereas in the film it is limited to one character, Sam, who sells stolen kegs of Guinness. In that respect, the film treads a careful line between remaining faithful to the everyday realities that people in Britain faced and serving as an inspirational story.

Born in 1911 as Basil Clive Dear, Dearden lost his father during World War I; his mother was left to raise six children on her own. Unable to care for all of them, she eventually gave Basil up to an orphanage. Largely self-taught, he worked as an actor and production manager on the London stage before joining Ealing Studios in 1937. His first directorial efforts were comedies starring the popular actor Will Hay, which he co-directed with Hay. After World War II Dearden went on to direct the Technicolor costume drama Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), the police drama The Blue Lamp (1950), the racial prejudice drama Sapphire (1959) and Victim (1961), the groundbreaking film about homosexuality. Through much of his career he worked closely with the art director Michael Relph, starting with The Bells Go Down. Relph later produced many of Dearden's films as well. Over time, Dearden developed a reputation for reliable professionalism that caused many younger British critics to view his work as ploddingly earnest, though high-profile figures such as the film critic Raymond Durgnat and the director Richard Attenborough have expressed their admiration for him. Dearden's last film before his 1971 death in a motorcycle accident was The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), which features what is arguably Roger Moore's best performance.

The top-billed cast member in The Bells Go Down was Tommy Trinder (1909-1989), one of the most popular British comedians of the era. A Cockney music hall performer, he became a regular in Ealing productions, including some of their war-themed films. Besides The Bells Go Down, examples of the latter included: Three Cockeyed Sailors (1940); Went the Day Well?, where he appeared on the radio as an announcer; the great popular success The Foreman Went to France (1942); and Fiddlers Three (a.k.a. While Nero Fiddled, 1944), which despite having three sailors in the lead roles was really more of an escapist fantasy than war film per se. In The Bells Go Down Trinder provides much of the film's comic relief as Tommy Turk, a failed racing dog breeder who ultimately proves his heroism.

A young James Mason received second billing as Ted Robbins, an officer in the London Fire Brigade who is charged with supervising the new A.F.S. recruits. Mason was in fact a conscientious objector during the war, which resulted in Noel Coward refusing to let him play in David Lean's In Which We Serve (1942). While Mason was already a recognized screen presence, it would still be a couple years before he appeared in his popular breakthroughs The Wicked Lady (1945) and The Seventh Veil (1945).

On the whole The Bells Go Down was well received by the British press, especially for its firefighting scenes. The British reviewer for Variety acknowledged Tommy Trinder's box office draw and added: "Thrillingly effective conflagration scenes deserve a large share of the honors." However, The Times compared the film as a whole unfavorably to Fires Were Started, complaining in particular that Tommy Trinder "allowed his personality to get out of hand" and that he played the film "before footlight and against the back-cloth of a burning city." Still, the same reviewer liked the performances of James Mason and Philip Friend. In the U.S. the film did not play until the 1950s, when it began to appear on television.

Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Roger MacDougall; Stephen Black (novel)
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Art Direction: Michael Relph
Music: Roy Douglas
Film Editing: Mary Habberfield
Cast: Tommy Trinder (Tommy Turk), James Mason (Ted Robbins), Philip Friend (Bob), Mervyn Johns (Sam), Billy Hartnell (Brookes), Finlay Currie (District Officer McFarlane), Philippa Hiatt (Nan), Meriel Forbes (Susie), Beatrice Varley (Ma Turk), Norman Pierce (Pa Robbins), Muriel George (Ma Robbins), Julian Vedey (Lou Freeman), Richard George (P.C. O'Brien), H Victor Weske (Peters), Leslie Harcourt (Alfie Parrot).
BW-90m.

by James Steffen

SOURCES:
"The Bells Go Down." The Times [London], April 15, 1943, p.6.
"The Bells Go Down." Variety, May 12, 1943.
Barr, Charles. Ealing Studios. London: Cameron & Tayleur, 1977.
Burton, Alan and Tim O'Sullivan. The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
Morley, Sheridan. James Mason: Odd Man Out. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
The Bells Go Down

The Bells Go Down

The Bells Go Down (1943), the solo directorial debut of Ealing regular Basil Dearden, was based on the 1942 book entitled The Bells Go Down: the Diary of a London A.F.S. Man. It was anonymously authored but was actually written by Stephen Black, who is credited in the film as a consultant on the script. The film focuses on the Auxiliary Fire Service's heroic efforts during the Blitz, which took place mainly from September 1940 through May 1941. It was by no means the only film produced in England during this time that depicted the Auxiliary Fire Service; the same year, Humphrey Jennings released Fires Were Started (1943), one of the landmark works in the Great British documentary movement. In Jennings' film, fires were reconstructed using bombed-out buildings; Dearden's film uses a combination of staged fires, miniature models, rear projection and stock footage that is still fairly convincing today. The Bells Go Down was also a prime example of Ealing Studios' contribution to the war effort. With the onset of war and the devastating Blitz by the Germans, the studio head Michael Balcon declared that he would produce "films of a character which will be of national use at this time." Today the best regarded of the Ealing wartime films are Went the Day Well? (1942) and San Demetrio London (1943). As the British film scholars Alan Burton and Tim O'Sullivan note, the "quiet heroism, cohesive groups and social harmony" depicted in such films played an important role in creating a public consensus on the war effort. But while these films undeniably served as propaganda, they were by no means devoid of complexity. Burton and O'Sullivan add that The Bells Go Down touches upon--without undue emphasis--feelings of resentment between the London Fire Brigade and the new AFS recruits. The original book frankly mentions the widespread problem of looting, whereas in the film it is limited to one character, Sam, who sells stolen kegs of Guinness. In that respect, the film treads a careful line between remaining faithful to the everyday realities that people in Britain faced and serving as an inspirational story. Born in 1911 as Basil Clive Dear, Dearden lost his father during World War I; his mother was left to raise six children on her own. Unable to care for all of them, she eventually gave Basil up to an orphanage. Largely self-taught, he worked as an actor and production manager on the London stage before joining Ealing Studios in 1937. His first directorial efforts were comedies starring the popular actor Will Hay, which he co-directed with Hay. After World War II Dearden went on to direct the Technicolor costume drama Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), the police drama The Blue Lamp (1950), the racial prejudice drama Sapphire (1959) and Victim (1961), the groundbreaking film about homosexuality. Through much of his career he worked closely with the art director Michael Relph, starting with The Bells Go Down. Relph later produced many of Dearden's films as well. Over time, Dearden developed a reputation for reliable professionalism that caused many younger British critics to view his work as ploddingly earnest, though high-profile figures such as the film critic Raymond Durgnat and the director Richard Attenborough have expressed their admiration for him. Dearden's last film before his 1971 death in a motorcycle accident was The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), which features what is arguably Roger Moore's best performance. The top-billed cast member in The Bells Go Down was Tommy Trinder (1909-1989), one of the most popular British comedians of the era. A Cockney music hall performer, he became a regular in Ealing productions, including some of their war-themed films. Besides The Bells Go Down, examples of the latter included: Three Cockeyed Sailors (1940); Went the Day Well?, where he appeared on the radio as an announcer; the great popular success The Foreman Went to France (1942); and Fiddlers Three (a.k.a. While Nero Fiddled, 1944), which despite having three sailors in the lead roles was really more of an escapist fantasy than war film per se. In The Bells Go Down Trinder provides much of the film's comic relief as Tommy Turk, a failed racing dog breeder who ultimately proves his heroism. A young James Mason received second billing as Ted Robbins, an officer in the London Fire Brigade who is charged with supervising the new A.F.S. recruits. Mason was in fact a conscientious objector during the war, which resulted in Noel Coward refusing to let him play in David Lean's In Which We Serve (1942). While Mason was already a recognized screen presence, it would still be a couple years before he appeared in his popular breakthroughs The Wicked Lady (1945) and The Seventh Veil (1945). On the whole The Bells Go Down was well received by the British press, especially for its firefighting scenes. The British reviewer for Variety acknowledged Tommy Trinder's box office draw and added: "Thrillingly effective conflagration scenes deserve a large share of the honors." However, The Times compared the film as a whole unfavorably to Fires Were Started, complaining in particular that Tommy Trinder "allowed his personality to get out of hand" and that he played the film "before footlight and against the back-cloth of a burning city." Still, the same reviewer liked the performances of James Mason and Philip Friend. In the U.S. the film did not play until the 1950s, when it began to appear on television. Producer: Michael Balcon Director: Basil Dearden Screenplay: Roger MacDougall; Stephen Black (novel) Cinematography: Ernest Palmer Art Direction: Michael Relph Music: Roy Douglas Film Editing: Mary Habberfield Cast: Tommy Trinder (Tommy Turk), James Mason (Ted Robbins), Philip Friend (Bob), Mervyn Johns (Sam), Billy Hartnell (Brookes), Finlay Currie (District Officer McFarlane), Philippa Hiatt (Nan), Meriel Forbes (Susie), Beatrice Varley (Ma Turk), Norman Pierce (Pa Robbins), Muriel George (Ma Robbins), Julian Vedey (Lou Freeman), Richard George (P.C. O'Brien), H Victor Weske (Peters), Leslie Harcourt (Alfie Parrot). BW-90m. by James Steffen SOURCES: "The Bells Go Down." The Times [London], April 15, 1943, p.6. "The Bells Go Down." Variety, May 12, 1943. Barr, Charles. Ealing Studios. London: Cameron & Tayleur, 1977. Burton, Alan and Tim O'Sullivan. The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. Morley, Sheridan. James Mason: Odd Man Out. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Quotes

Trivia