The Bells (1926 film)

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The Bells
Film poster
Directed byJames Young
Written byJames Young
Based onLe Juif Polonais (1867 play by Alexandre Chatrian and Emile Erckmann)
The Bells (1871 English version of the play by Leopold Lewis)
Produced byI. E. Chadwick
StarringLionel Barrymore
Caroline Frances Cooke
CinematographyL. William O'Connell
Distributed byChadwick Pictures
Release date
  • July 30, 1926 (1926-07-30)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
The Bells ad in Motion Picture News, 1926

The Bells is a 1926 American silent crime film directed by James Young and starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff.[1] It was based on an 1867 French stage play called Le Juif Polonais (The Polish Jew) by Erckmann-Chatrian. The play was translated to English in 1871 by Leopold Lewis at which time it was retitled The Bells. The English version of the play was performed in the U.S. in the 19th century by Sir Henry Irving. Le Juif Polonais was also adapted into an opera of the same name in three acts by Camille Erlanger, composed to a libretto by Henri Cain.[2][3]

The play was adapted into a number of film adaptations; an Australian film in 1911 directed by W. J. Lincoln,[4] a 1913 American film directed by Oscar Apfel,[5] a 1918 American film The Bells (1918 film) directed by Ernest C. Warde,[6] a 1925 British-Belgian film (aka Le juif polonais) directed by Harry Southwell,[7] the 1926 Hollywood film starring Lionel Barrymore and Boris Karloff, and a British film in 1931 which starred Donald Caltrop as Mathias. Harry Southwell remade the film again later in Australia as The Burgomeister (1935).[8]

Footage from The Bells (1926) was re-used in two short films: The Mesmerist, and Light Is Calling by Bill Morrison.


Mathias, an innkeeper with several other businesses, seeks to be burgomaster of a small Austrian hamlet. In order to gain favor with local leaders, he offers food and alcohol on credit, but often refuses to collect, much to the dismay of his wife Catharine. Mathias is deeply in debt to Frantz, who seeks Mathias' businesses. He will forgive the debt if Mathias allows him to marry his daughter, Annette. Mathias refuses, and is worried about the debt which will come due soon.

One evening a Polish Jew enters Mathias' inn. The man displays a money belt filled with gold, which Mathias, having had much to drink with the man, eyes closely. When the man leaves in a blizzard, Mathias pursues and kills him; before he dies, the man shakes a set of horse bells at him. Having come into money through murder, Mathias pays off his debt, provides a dowry for his daughter to marry, and is elected burgomaster. However, he is haunted by the sound of bells and hallucinations of the man he killed. The man's brother comes and offers a reward, bringing a "mesmerist" to help find the murderer. Mathias is pursued by the mesmerist and his own guilt throughout the rest of the film. He suffers hallucinations and nightmarish dreams of the murdered man until the final reel, in which he confesses his crime aloud to the ghost, then collapses, dead.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Progressive Silent Film List: The Bells (1926)". Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  2. ^ "Erlanger, Camille |".
  3. ^ Erlanger, Camille; Cain, Henri; Gheusi, P.-B. (Pierre-Barthélemy) (November 24, 1900). "Le juif polonais; conte populaire d'Alsace en trois actes et six tableaux d'après Erckmann-Chatrian. Poème de Henri Cain et P.B. Gheusi. Partition chant et piano réduite par l'auteur". Paris P. Dupont – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Mary Bateman, 'W. J. Lincoln', Cinema Papers, June–July 1980, p. 174
  5. ^ Kinnard, Roy (October 29, 1995). Horror in Silent Films: a Filmography, 1896-1929. McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub. ISBN 9780786400362 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "Progressive Silent Film List: The Bells (1918)".
  7. ^ Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era. Midnight Marquee Press. p. 283. ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.
  8. ^ "The Bells". Retrieved May 9, 2016.

External links[edit]