When Eight Bells Toll (film)

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When Eight Bells Toll
When Eight Bells Toll.jpg
When Eight Bells Toll
Directed by Etienne Perier
Produced by Elliott Kastner
Jerry Gershwin
Written by Alistair MacLean
Starring Anthony Hopkins
Jack Hawkins
Robert Morley
Nathalie Delon
Music by Angela Morley (credited as Walter Stott)
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Edited by John Shirley
Distributed by J. Arthur Rank
Release dates 9 March 1971
Running time 94 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $7 million (approx.)

When Eight Bells Toll is a 1971 action film set in Scotland, based upon Scottish author Alistair MacLean's 1965 novel of the same name. Producer Elliott Kastner planned to produce a string of realistic gritty espionage thrillers to rival the James Bond series, but the film's poor box office receipts ended his plans.


British Treasury secret agent Phillip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins) is sent to investigate the hijacking of five cargo ships in the Irish Sea, tracking the latest hijacked ship—the Nantesville, carrying £8 million in gold bullion—to the Scottish Highlands and the sleepy port town of "Torbay" on the "Isle of Torbay" (patterned after Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull). Posing as marine biologists, Calvert and his partner Hunslett (Corin Redgrave) find the local inhabitants suspicious and hostile. They suspect that Cypriot tycoon and shipping magnate Sir Anthony Skouras (Jack Hawkins), whose luxury yacht Shangri-La is anchored off the coast, may be behind the pirating of the gold bullion. While searching the surrounding area in a Royal Navy Helicopter, Calvert makes contact with a group of remote shark fishermen who appear more friendly than Torbay's locals. Calvert also meets the occupants of a Castle, Lord Kirkside and his teenage daughter, who behave strangely as well as being hostile. As the helicopter brings Calvert back to Torbay it comes under attack from the shore and the Royal Navy pilot is killed. The helicopter crashes, explodes and plummets into the sea. Calvert escapes from the helicopter after it sinks to the bottom. When he returns to his research yacht Firecrest he finds Hunslett is missing.

Operating out of his yacht, Calvert is joined by his boss Sir Arthur Arnford-Jones, known as "Uncle Arthur" (Robert Morley). Together, they combat boarders and make ready for sea. On raising the anchor they find the dead body of Hunslett tied to it.

They are joined by Skouras's wife, Charlotte (Nathalie Delon), and when a pirate speedboat approaches, Calvert rams it, shoots the occupants and blows up the boat in vengeance for Hunslett's death.

Calvert recruits the shark fishermen to deal with Skouras and his modern day pirates. Guessing that the missing bullion ships are being sunk to allow the gold to be offloaded invisibly, Calvert dives in the bay and finds the Nantesville. He fights and kills one of the divers, whom he has previously encountered and who he suspects killed Hunslett.

He then secretly enters Kirkside's castle and questions the Lord's daughter, discovering that Skouras is an innocent victim whose real wife is being held hostage along with other locals down in the castle's dungeons. He then sneaks into the underground dock of the castle where the gold is being offloaded.

At midnight (eight bells) the shark fishermen ram the gates of the underground dock with their boat. The pirates are expecting them because Charlotte has been transmitting Calvert's plans to them by secret radio. A fire fight ensues in which the pirates are wiped out, after which Calvert lets Charlotte escape with a single bar of gold in her possession.


The story is very close to the novel, and features some of the same witty dialogue—not surprising since MacLean elected to adapt this film himself. Some of the twists in the ending have been changed, however, and an explosive shootout replaces MacLean's original Agatha Christie-style summation.

Producer Elliott Kastner hoped that the film would be the first of a series of spy adventures films featuring MacLean's Philip Calvert character by capturing James Bond series fans after the anticipated demise of that series (Sean Connery was believed to be planning to quit the Bond role, and some thought that the Bond series would end after his departure). Kastner considered Michael Jayston and Anthony Hopkins for the role of Calvert. Hopkins was chosen, and Bond film stunt arranger Bob Simmons helped him slim down to become a convincing Royal Naval officer trained as a commando and frogman.[1]

The main helicopter used in the film is a Westland Widgeon. There is also an Aérospatiale Alouette II.

When Eight Bells Tolls attracted limited viewers, although it was the 11th most popular movie at the British box office in 1971.[2] Connery returned to the Bond role and appeared in the successful Diamonds Are Forever, and the Bond series producers decided to continue the series when Connery left. The projected Phillip Calvert series was cancelled.



  1. ^ Simmons, Bob Nobody Does It Better: My 25 Years of Stunts With James Bond and Other Stories Blandford 1987
  2. ^ Peter Waymark. "Richard Burton top draw in British cinemas." Times [London, England] 30 Dec. 1971: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.

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