For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman
Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman

'For Whom the Bell Tolls' is a romantic adventure film about the Spanish Civil War, made in 1943, directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman and the Greek actress, Katina Paxinou. It was based on the 1940 bestselling novel by Ernest Hemingway.

When the movie was released it received strongly favorable reviews, despite being criticised for being "pro-Red and immoral". Out of nine Oscar nominations it won one (Best Supporting Actress for Katina Paxinou) and it was the top grossing movie of 1943.

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The plot of the movie differs from the novel in a number of respects but is more faithful to the original than most Hollywood films. We follow an idealistic American, Robert Jordan, played by Gary Cooper. He has joined the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, as did many young Americans, and, as an explosives expert, has been given the dangerous job of blowing up a bridge behind enemy lines in the mountains near Segovia. He joins a band of guerrillas led by the forceful Pilar, and meets the beautiful and vulnerable Maria played by Ingrid Bergman and a romance develops.

The cast is impressive. Gary Cooper was Hemingway's first and only choice for Robert Jordan and the studio was able to cash in on Ingrid Bergman's starring role in 'Casablanca' the previous year. They each received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress. Special mentiion should also be made of Akim Tamiroff also was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the duplicitous Pablo. Acting pride of place though, goes to Katina Paxinou for her great performance as the doughty and resourceful Pilar. Her career faded after this film, having been a leading member of the Greek national theater before the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941. Greece was still occupied when the film was made and she accepted her Oscar in memory of her colleagues there.

The outdoor location scenery is spectacular (because of the war it was shot in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains to stand in for Spain) and the top class technicolor cinematography helps to add to the spectacle. The music, by Victor Young is rich and moving and wonderfully underlines the action and emotions of the players.

Main Cast

Gary Cooper ... Robert Jordan
Ingrid Bergman ... María
Katina Paxinou ... Pilar
Akim Tamiroff ... Pablo
Arturo de Córdova ... Agustín
Vladimir Sokoloff ... Anselmo (guide)
Mikhail Rasumny ... Rafael (Gypsy)
Fortunio Bonanova ... Fernando
Eric Feldary ... Andrés (courier to Gen. Golz)
Victor Varconi ... Primitivo (lookout)
Joseph Calleia ... El Sordo
Lilo Yarson ... Joaquin
Alexander Granach ... Paco
Adia Kuznetzoff ... Gustavo
Leonid Snegoff ... Ignacio
Duncan Renaldo ... Lieutenant Berrendo


Director ... Sam Wood
Producer ... Sam Wood
Screenplay ... Dudley Nichols
Based on ... For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Music ... Victor Young
Cinematography ... Ray Rennahan
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Release date ... July 14, 1943
Running time ... 170 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actress ... Katina Paxinou
Eight Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Paramount Pictures
Best Actor ... Gary Cooper
Best Actress ... Ingrid Bergman
Best Supporting Actor ... Akim Tamiroff
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color ... Hans Dreier, Haldane Douglas, Bertram C. Granger
Best Cinematography, Color ... Ray Rennahan
Best Film Editing ... John F. Link Sr., Sherman Todd
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture ... Victor Young