For Whom the Bell Tolls

Movie Information

In Brief: Ernest Hemingway claimed that he wrote the character of Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls with Gary Cooper in mind — an interesting turn of events since Hemingway was no fan of A Farewell to Arms (1932), which had starred Cooper. Regardless, I guess we can assume this gives Sam Wood's 1943 film of For Whom the Bell Tolls a special kind of legitimacy. One might, however, raise the question of whether Hemingway wrote the book with Sam Wood in mind for its eventual filmization. Personally, I'm skeptical. Though Wood has several good movies to his credit, they mostly seem to be good for reasons having little to do with the direction. Sometimes Wood seems determined to live up to his name, and that's somewhat the case here. In fairness to Wood, this is a solid enough film encapsulation of the novel about the Spanish Civil War and the romance between Robert Jordan and Maria (Ingrid Bergman), who has been ravaged by the enemy. It is also a little on the slow side (especially at 170 minutes) and just too darn respectful of the source material to ever quite take flight. Perhaps Wood was just cowed by the material, but the results — apart from the irrepressible Katina Paxinou — have the look of something made by a director in deer-stuck-in-the-headlights mode. I can never watch it without thinking of Bing and Bob talking about it while awaiting execution in Road to Bali (1952) and remarking, "Very few laughs."
Genre: Drama
Director: Sam Wood
Starring: Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff, Katina Paxinou, Arturo de Cordova
Rated: NR

The Hendersonville Film Society will show For Whom the Bell Tolls Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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