Ingrid Thursdays: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

The Film: Based off the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same title, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a true achievement of cinema that broke the boundaries of special effects and also offered a dense Posteraccount of the revolutionaries during the 1930s civil war in Spain. The film doesn’t attempt to justify or glorify war. Instead, the film represents one side of the fighting, but within that side, shows the inner struggles, doubts, and brutality of war. In particular, the film provides the notion that even those fighting for the right causes may lose sight of their values and become the very thing they opposed. In the words of the American Civil War general William Sherman, “War is hell,” and in the case of the Spanish Civil War, that phrase is no exception.

The film’s inner core revolves around the developing relationship between Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. Cooper stars as Robert Jordan, an American who is sent on a mission to blow up a bridge at a precise time. He integrates himself within a Bell Tolls 01revolutionary group that is run by the strong, in-your-face woman, Pilar, who is played by Katina Paxinou in her Oscar-winning role. Part of this group is Maria (played by Bergman) who is a lonely girl who was once brutalized by enemy soldiers. Robert and Maria immediately take an interest in each other and develop a romantic relationship and speak of a potential future together. This formulates both a high-stakes scenario in which Robert needs to both succeed in his mission, but now also needs to ensure that he and the revolutionary group can escape enemy capture immediately after blowing up the bridge.

The Performance: Ingrid Bergman’s performance is guarded, which is in line with the character she is conveying. She used the backstory of her character, to which she saw her parents murdered and the insinuation that she was raped, as the Ingrid Bell Tollsfoundation for her character. This sense of shame and fear makes her appear fragile and timid to others, yet Bergman gives her Maria tremendous internal strength. Maria’s strength comes in that she still has hope and the belief that the promise of a better world could happen, which she expresses through her eyes throughout the entire film.

In a film that has an undertone theme of masculinity and defining what is masculinity, Bergman’s performance heightens the femininity within the group of revolutionaries. When contrasting her with Katina Paxinou’s performance, whose character acts as both a mother and father figure to Maria, it is evident that Bergman crafted Bell Tolls 03her performance as someone who is dependant and reactionary upon others. Paxinou’s performance is that of a leader, someone who is willing to stand up for her beliefs and refuses to be limited by her sex. She still performs what is expected of her gender, yet she tosses that aside the moment she sees men deviating away from their masculinity. Her attitude stems from the notion that if men refuse to be men, then she will take their place and have them follow her, which she does repeatedly. Paxinou’s performance is a reminder that true leaders shouldn’t be minimized by their sex. In contrast, Bergman’s Maria is someone whose emotional core is in sync with loving someone for the first time, who happens to be Cooper’s Robert Jordan. Her future, her prospects, are dependent upon someone else saving her from the clutches of war. It not that Maria doesn’t want to convey traits that would make her a leader, but rather she is someone who has seen enough of war and wants to be taken away from it.

As a result, Bergman’s performance could be categorized as being a militant damsel. She believes in the cause of the revolutionaries, but she remains a follower. While this may seem limiting to Bergman’s performance, it fits in line with the Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman Bell Tollscharacter she has established by her offering the group much needed compassion that they all have long since repressed. This film also shows that overt masculinity is damaging and there is a need for sympathy. Bergman’s performance shows that compassion is another form of strength. Many of the other characters tease about emotions, citing them as displaying weakness, but Bergman provides evidence in her performance that empathy is just as powerful of a tool in war as a weapon may be. It inspires motivation and the notion that giving up is not an option.

Her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls was Ingrid Bergman’s first Oscar nomination in her long career. This performance immediately followed her iconic role in Casablanca, which ensured she would become a household name with two impactful Ingrid Bells Featureperformances associated with her name within a short period of time. Additionally, by doing both her roles in Casablanca and For Whom the Bell Tolls in consecutive years, this emphasized to audiences and critics that she would never be typecasted within one type of role, as many actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood often were. Bergman may have not won an Oscar in 1943, but she at least ensured she would be a powerhouse actresses for decades to come.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Cactus Flower
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s


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