For Whom the Bell Tolls
At the Brattle through September 27
Director Sam Wood has done a dramatically effective job of converting Ernest Hemingway's tight drama of guerilla warfare into a movie, but he has run into difficulty in neglecting the major ideas of the book. The book would make no sense without the love plot; it holds the story together and provides real element of tragedy. Yet the movie glosses the subtleties of the love sequence, leaving the viewer with the impression that he has seen some good war scenes, and some good love scenes, with very little to relate them to each other.
Certain vital parts of the book cannot, unfortunately, be put on film, and this is a major fault. Hemingway's crude but effective metaphysics are mostly neglected, and when inserted artificially in the last scene ("You go. And when you go I will go with you. Because I am you.") become more a source of amusement than anything else.
The simple beauty of the love affair is all but lost, remaining only is Ingrid Bergman's magnificent smile which explains more than all of script-writer Dudley Nichol's chopped rendition of Hemingway.
Also missing is the overwhelming sense of fatalism and general futility which fifills the book. A furtive attempt to recreate this by the hackneyed device of gypsy mysticism fails.
The characters themselves, however, are quite faithful to the book. Gary Cooper is taciturn and determined as the Montana college professor who comes to Spain to dynamite a bridge for the faltering Republic. Miss Bergman is tender and convincing as the young camp girl, though she seemed a bit too well-scrubbed and Nordic for the Spanish locale.
The minor characters each preserve the rugged uniqueness of the mountain people: Pablo, the guerilla leader, animal-like and cowardly, dulled with wine and inactivity; Pilar, his woman, who assumes command when he no longer cares; Anselmo, the old Pacifist, who is forced to kill to support the Republic.
They are all reasonablby faithful to the book, and speak in Hemingway's quaint manner, phrasing the English words in Spanish word order. In the book the effect produced is soft, but on the screen it seems artificial The "these" and "thous" of the book are mercifully deleted.
Although Hemingway's characters are there, Hemingway seems generaly missing; but this is perhaps an insurmountable hurdle in making a book into a film. In any event it was adequately done, and Miss Bergman is at any time worth the price of admission.