After sitting through a string of lousy adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, I found one that lives up to the author’s lofty literary standards: For Whom the Bell Tolls, the 1943 movie that stars Gary Cooper (Robert Jordan), Ingrid Bergman (Maria), Akim Tamiroff (Pablo), and Katina Paxinou (Pilar). Paxinou won an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) for her roll.
At 170 minutes, this movie – set against the Spanish Civil War – isn’t for the faint of heart. Even with an intermission half-way through.
The first half (which covers Hemingway’s novel through page 240) was slow and hard to follow. A lot of dialog, much of it spoken quickly, all of it accented, makes for a cinematic slog. The second half (which covers the book’s remaining 258 pages) is where the fighting begins and the film’s pace increases.
All of Hemingway’s familiar topics are here – death, war, absinthe, lost love, war, futility, heroism, war, an American ex-pat. Oh, and did I mention war, death, absinthe, and more war?
It is a joy to watch Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman on screen. They, alone, make the movie worthwhile. Veteran actors Tamiroff and Paxinou are the icing on the cake. But this is Coop’s and Bergman’s show. Their love story provides the one element of hope in the lives of this rag-tag group of mountain-dwelling freedom fighters.
However, you need to remember that this is a Hemingway novel. So don’t expect a happy ending.
Still, if you have three hours to spare, and have the patience to let the movie grow on you, you could do a lot worse than For Whom the Bell Tolls.
On a scale of 1-10, I’d give this an 8.