For Whom the Bell Tolls (film)

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For Whom the Bell Tolls
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySam Wood
Screenplay byDudley Nichols
Based onFor Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Produced bySam Wood
CinematographyRay Rennahan
Edited by
Music byVictor Young
Color processTechnicolor
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 16, 1943 (1943-07-16)
Running time
170 minutes (19 reels)
CountryUnited States
Box office$17.8 million (worldwide)[1][2]

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a 1943 American epic war film produced and directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff, Katina Paxinou and Joseph Calleia. The screenwriter Dudley Nichols based his script on the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls by American novelist Ernest Hemingway. The film is about an American International Brigades volunteer, Robert Jordan (Cooper), who is fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. During his desperate mission to blow up a strategically important bridge to protect Republican forces, Jordan falls in love with a young woman guerrilla fighter (Bergman).

For Whom the Bell Tolls was Ingrid Bergman's first Technicolor film. Hemingway's desire for Cooper and Bergman for the leading roles was much publicized, but Paramount initially cast Vera Zorina with Cooper. After shooting footage with Zorina's hair cut short (truer to the novel's character—a shorn head—than Bergman's "look" in the film), she was replaced with Bergman.[3]

For Whom the Bell Tolls was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film claimed one win as Katina Paxinou won Best Supporting Actress. Victor Young's soundtrack for the film was the first complete score from an American film to be issued on record.[4]


During the Spanish Civil War, an American language teacher, Robert Jordan, who lived in Spain during the pre-war period, fights in the International Brigades against Francisco Franco's forces. An experienced dynamiter, Jordan is ordered to travel behind enemy lines and destroy a critical bridge with the aid of a band of local anti-fascist guerrillas. The bridge must be blown up to prevent enemy troops from traveling across it to respond to an upcoming offensive against the fascists.

The guerrilla fighters plan their mission.

Jordan meets an old man, Anselmo, who is a guerrilla fighter who will serve as Jordan's liaison with the local guerrilla fighters. Anselmo leads Jordan to a group of Republican guerrillas who are led by a middle-aged man named Pablo. Jordan falls in love with one of the guerrillas, a young woman named María. María's life was shattered by her parents' execution and her gang-rape at the hands of the Falangists (part of the fascist coalition) at the outbreak of the war. Jordan has a strong sense of duty, which clashes with the unwillingness of the guerrilla leader Pablo to commit to helping with the bridge-blowing operation, as it would endanger himself and his band. At the same time, Jordan develops a new-found lust for life which arises from his love for María. Pablo's wife Pilar displaces Pablo as the group leader and pledges the allegiance of the guerrillas to Jordan's mission. However, when another band of anti-fascist guerrillas, led by El Sordo, is surrounded and killed in a desperate last stand, Pablo destroys Jordan's dynamite detonation equipment, hoping to prevent the bridge demolition and thereby avoid fascist reprisals on his camp. Later, Pablo regrets abandoning his comrades and returns to assist in the operation.

The old man Anselmo (played by Vladimir Sokoloff), who acts as Robert Jordan's guide.

However, the enemy, apprised of the coming offensive, has prepared to ambush the Republicans in force and it seems unlikely that blowing up the bridge will do much to prevent a rout. Regardless, Jordan understands that he must still demolish the bridge in an attempt to prevent fascist reinforcements from overwhelming his allies. Lacking the equipment destroyed by Pablo, Jordan and Anselmo improvise an alternative method to explode the dynamite by using hand grenades. Jordan attaches wires to the grenades so that their pins can be pulled from a distance. This improvised plan is considerably more dangerous than using conventional detonators, because the men must increase their proximity to the explosion.

While the guerrilla fighters—Pablo, Pilar, and María—create a diversion for Jordan and Anselmo, the two men plant and detonate the dynamite, costing Anselmo his life when he is hit by a piece of debris from the exploding bridge. While the guerrillas are escaping on horseback, Jordan is maimed when a fascist tank shoots his horse out from under him. Jordan cannot feel his legs and he knows that if his comrades stop to rescue him, they too will be captured or killed. He bids goodbye to María and ensures that she escapes to safety with the surviving guerrillas. Armed with a Lewis machine gun, he waits until the horse-mounted fascist soldiers appear in his gun sights. He then pulls the trigger, firing a sweeping barrage at the oncoming soldiers. The film ends with Jordan firing the Lewis gun directly at the camera.


Guerrilla fighters Robert Jordan (Cooper) and Maria (Bergman) embrace.


Paramount Pictures initially cast actress Vera Zorina opposite Cooper before replacing her with Bergman. The day's papers described the recasting: "They [Paramount] compromised on Zorina's hair, cutting it to two inches; the rest of the makeup was true to the book. The results were shown to Paramount executives. They gasped. 'No glamour,' they explained. 'She looks like a dishrag.' Sam Wood, producer-director, sighed. 'The part doesn't call for glamour,' he tried to explain. 'Well, she ought to have glamour without looking like it.' They tried it. They put caps on Zorina's teeth, touched up her facial makeup with a bit of mascara here and there, tailored the baggy pants to a slim hip, and gave the shirt an uplift. She looked more like the lovely Zorina but not at all like the hapless 'Maria.' They gave up. Miss Bergman was tested for the part. The tests were made with her hair long and the executives beamed. She looked glamorous. Tomorrow they will cut her hair short. They will dress her in baggy pants and a formless shirt. After that, no one knows."[5]


The film was originally released in a roadshow format, at 170 minutes (not counting intermission). For re-release, it was trimmed to 134 minutes, and it was not seen at its full length until the late 1990s, when it was archivally restored to 168 minutes. This restored version is the one that has been released on DVD. The restoration was photochemical, not digital, and the titles and some of the scenes in the early reels are slightly to significantly out-of-register.


For Whom the Bell Tolls was the second-highest-grossing film of 1943, earning $6.3 million in distributor rentals in the United States and Canada.[6] A re-issue in 1957 earned an additional $800,000.[7] When adjusted for inflation and the size of the population when released, it ranks among the top 100 popular movies of all time at the domestic box office.[8]

For Whom the Bell Tolls holds a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on fifteen reviews.[9]


16th Academy Awards[edit]

Robert Jordan (Cooper) rigs the bridge with explosives.

1st Golden Globe Awards[edit]


Other versions[edit]

There was a one-hour Lux Radio Theatre version broadcast on February 12, 1945, which retained the principal cast from the film: Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, and Akim Tamiroff.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "All-Time Top Grosses". Variety. Vol. 221, no. 6. January 4, 1961. p. 49. ISSN 0042-2738. Retrieved 2022-06-26 – via
  2. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M-158. ISSN 0042-2738.
  3. ^ "Ingrid Bergman Replaces Zorina." The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 August 1942.
  4. ^ Patrick Robinson. 1980. Movie Facts and Feats: A Guinness Record Book.
  5. ^ "Zorina Loses Role of 'Maria' When Makeup Loses Glamour." Buffalo Evening News, 5 August 1942. (A widely-syndicated United Press article)
  6. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers". Variety. September 25, 1946. p. 5.
  7. ^ "'For Whom the Bell Tolls' (1943) Estimated Repeat Take, $800,000". Variety. January 1, 1958. p. 5. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
  8. ^ "Top 100 Movies 1927-2021 by Box Office Popularity". Best Movies Of.
  9. ^ "For Whom the Bell Tolls | Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  10. ^ "The 16th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2014-02-27.
  11. ^ "NY Times: For Whom the Bell Tolls". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2008-12-16.
  12. ^ "Monday Selections". Toledo Blade (Ohio). 1945-02-12. p. 4 (Peach Section). Retrieved 2021-07-16.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 133–135.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]