It is too early to get excited about the Karl Rove leak or the replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor. So let me comment on something of entirely no consequence.
This essay comes under the category of things I wonder about of no consequence. In this case, what is/was the matter with the movie, For Whom the Bell Tolls? I am not really a motion picture buff. Indeed, I seldom watch motion pictures, especially those made after about 1960. As my son is vitally interested in such things I have been made aware of the fact that there are numerous claims made about the best 100 movies. Now you know, and I know, that anytime you have a list of the 100 best movies, there is going to be rather massive disagreements (except, I gather, in the case of Casablanca and probably Citizen Kane). The one thing you can be certain of is that For Whom the Bell Tolls will not be one of them. In every one of these lists I have never seen For Whom the Bell Tolls. Adding insult to injury, perhaps, it does not even appear on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I have some difficulty understanding this for the following reasons:
In 1944 this movie apparently received 9 nominations for Academy Awards. Granted, only one individual actually won, Katina Parinou, for best supporting actress. She clearly should have won. Ingrid Bergman was nominated for best actress, Gary Cooper for best actor, Akim Tamiroff (who really should have won), for best supporting actor. There was also a nomination for best color – interior, and apparently others I am not certain about. Tamiroff and Paxinou also won Golden Globe awards.
In spite of this record, in the DVD & VIDEO Guide for 2004 Martin and Porter say, “The pace is slow, and the purpose of the fight is never made clear.” This was a movie about the Spanish Civil War, how much clearer would it have to be? They go on to say “Gary Cooper is listless and Ingrid Bergman self-conscious.” They both were nominated for Oscars. What role did Gary Cooper ever play that could not be described as “listless?” Indeed, he was the personification of listlessness. But he was still nominated. And Bergman’s self-consciousness, if it existed, didn’t keep her from being nominated either.
In my opinion (granted, not worth very much) this was a marvelous Hollywood movie. Perhaps the perfect example of a Hollywood motion picture. It was perfectly cast (all of the supporting actors were marvelous), had a great setting, it was a great Hemingway story, was Bergman’s first color film, was also (I believe) the first commercial movie with an intermission, and it was nicely photographed. What more could you want? I remember we were told to bring something to eat as it was going to be long. I enjoyed the intermission.
As seems to be the case with all movie reviews, there were some who thought it was great and others who did not. Those who did not seem to have objected to the length (170 minutes) and to the pace (slow), and at least one thought it was not entirely convincing (?). It has also been suggested that it was rather pacifistic at a time when we were supposed to be aggressive and warlike (1943). Somewhere, I recall, someone thought Cooper and Bergman were miscast (this boggles my mind). Perhaps this was a result of the claim that Hemingway himself requested Cooper and Bergman (who knows?). One reviewer suggested it was a very good but not great film. The one I liked the best, however, was someone who said the pros were “its sheer magnificence” and the cons were “only for nit pickers.”
Personally, I thought the only real problem was some of the dialogue, especially in the final scene where Cooper is telling Bergman to leave as “we are both one now,” etc. However bad this may have been it was certainly a cut above the original Hemingway dialogue, “did the earth move for you too.” I also thought the tanks were a bit corny but, hey, it was a long time ago and tank warfare hadn’t yet been perfected.
I am not prepared to argue that it was/is a great film. But I do think it is much better than it has been treated in recent years. When you consider that 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die includes such masterpieces as The Nutty Professor, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (an absolutely awful movie), it does make you wonder.
What I wonder most about is why does anyone think it is possible to list the best 100 or 1001 movies in the first place? I guess if I could find someone dumb enough to finance me for such an enterprise I could come up with a list. And, of course, I know best.