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In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal.
Copyright © 2002, the University of South Carolina
Hemingway's poignant tale of love and guerilla warfare unfolds in Spain's Guadarrama Mountains in the late 1930s as the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic — and their ragtag band of expatriate fighters from many countries — join to combat Spain's fascist Nationalists, under the command of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Among them is American Robert Jordan, played by Gary Cooper, who falls in love with Ingrid Bergman's character Maria, whose life has been shattered by the outbreak of war.
(©1996-2009 Wisconsin Historical Society)
Cooper and Bergman
© 1997-2009 Reel Classics, L.L.C.
By signing Bergman for the female lead role, Paramount Pictures rode the wave of Bergman's popularity generated by her leading role in the 1942 Warner Bros. hit film Casablanca. For Whom the Bell Tolls received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, but only Greek actress Katina Paxinou — in her first film role as Loyalist leader Pilar — took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
(©1996-2009 Wisconsin Historical Society)
Picture of Katina Paxinou
By coroner © 2005-2009 Listal.com
While Hemingway's novel took a clear political stand in favor of the Loyalists and their struggle against Franco's Nationalists, the film neatly depoliticized the story. With Franco having prevailed in the war's outcome by the time the movie went into production, the Spanish government lobbied Hollywood to avoid offending Spain. As a result, screenwriter Dudley Nichols removed all references to Franco and the Loyalists. Even so, the film was never shown in Spain until 1978 — three years after Franco's death.
(©1996-2009 Wisconsin Historical Society)
Characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls:
Robert Jordan – American university instructor of Spanish language and a specialist in demolitions and explosives.
Anselmo – elderly guide to Robert Jordan.
Rafael – Gitano member of Pablo's band.
María – Robert Jordan's young lover.
Pilar – Pablo's wife and temporary leader of Pablo's band.
Agustín – bad-mouthed machine gunner of Pablo's band.
El Sordo – hearing-impaired leader of a nearby band of guerrilleros.
Fernando – middle-aged member of Pablo's band.
Andrés – member of Pablo's band, brother of Eladio.
Eladio – member of Pablo's band, brother of Andrés.
Primitivo – young member of Pablo's band.
Joaquin – enthusiastic teenaged communist, member of Sordo's band.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
With several studios bidding for film rights, Hemingway chose Paramount, not just for their $150,000 offer, but because his friend Gary Cooper, on whom he had based the novel's leading man, was under contract there. Initially, Cecil B. De Mille was supposed to direct, but as the writing dragged on for three years, the project passed to Sam Wood, who had just scored a hit directing Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees (1942).
Choosing a leading lady proved a major issue. Ingrid Bergman desperately wanted to play Maria, convinced the role would establish her as a major dramatic actress. She met Hemingway and impressed him as the best choice for the role. But somebody at Paramount - nobody will accept responsibility - decided to give the role to Vera Zorina, a ballet dancer under contract there at the time. Rumors suggest she was having an affair with somebody at the top (she was married to choreographer George Balanchine at the time). Just as likely is the fact that her salary was considerably lower than the fee Paramount would have had to pay for Bergman.
Instead of the career-making role in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Bergman had to settle for the lead in a minor World War II drama at Warner Bros. - Casablanca (1943). But as shooting for both films progressed, word came down from the For Whom the Bell Tolls locations in the Sierra Nevadas that Zorina was not working out. After three weeks of disastrous rushes, Bergman was called in to audition. She won the coveted role during the final days of shooting on Casablanca and quickly drove to the remote location. She also had her hair cut off for the role, a style that swept the nation.
Almost as much drama lay behind the casting of Pilar, the rebel leader's wife most critics considered the book's most vividly drawn character. Almost every character actress in Hollywood was tested, including British actress Flora Robson and Russian legend Alla Nazimova. The studio announced stage veteran Blanche Yurka for the role. Then they met Katina Paxinou, the first lady of the Greek stage. She had been on a U.S. tour when World War II hit her homeland, stranding her in the states. When she tested, she informed the executives that she came from three generations of guerillas in her native land. Not only did she win the role, but she pretty much stole the film from its Hollywood stars.
When For Whom the Bell Tolls opened, there was one thing missing from the picture - the story's politics. Francisco Franco's Fascists were the villains of Hemingway's story, but they had won the Spanish Civil War. Spain was neutral territory in World War II, and applied pressure on Paramount to re-write history. As a result, the film never clearly identifies Cooper and his allies as members of Spain's liberal Republicans or the enemies as Franco's soldiers. Instead the film focused on the love affair between Cooper and Bergman. Their electricity together was real. Bergman would later say that she fell hopelessly in love with him on location, though the relationship remained platonic.
Producer: Buddy G. DeSylva (executive) uncredited, Sam Wood
Director: Sam Wood
Writing Credits: Ernest Hemingway (novel), Dudley Nichols
Production Design: William Cameron Menzies
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Film Editing: John Link, Sherman Todd
Original Music: Walter Kent, Victor Young
Cast: Gary Cooper (Robert Jordan), Ingrid Bergman (Maria), Katina Paxinou (Pilar), Akim Tamiroff (Pablo), Arturo de Cordova (Agustin), Vladimir Sokoloff (Anselmo), Mikhail Rasumny (Rafael), Fortunio Bonanova (Fernando), Yvonne De Carlo (Girl in Cafe).
C-170m. Closed captioning.
(By Frank Miller at TM & © 2009 Turner Classic Movies)
The protagonist of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan left his job as a college instructor in the United States to volunteer for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Initially, he believed in the Republican cause with a near-religious faith and felt an “absolute brotherhood” with his comrades on the Republican side. However, when the action of the novel starts, we see that Robert Jordan has become disillusioned. As the conflict drags on, he realizes that he does not really believe in the Republican cause but joined their side simply because they fought against Fascism. Because he fights for a side whose causes he does not necessarily support, Robert Jordan experiences a great deal of internal conflict and begins to wonder whether there is really any difference between the Fascist and Republican sides.
Robert Jordan’s interior monologues and actions indicate these internal conflicts that plague him. Although he is disillusioned with the Republican cause, he continues to fight for that cause. In public he announces that he is anti-Fascist rather than a Communist, but in private he thinks that he has no politics at all. He knows that his job requires that he kill people but also knows that he should not believe in killing in the abstract. Despite his newfound love for Maria, he feels that there cannot be a place for her in his life while he also has his military work. He claims not to be superstitious but cannot stop thinking about the world as giving him signs of things to come. These conflicts weigh heavily on Robert Jordan throughout the bulk of the novel.
Robert Jordan resolves these tensions at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, in his final moments as he faces death. He accepts himself as a man of action rather than thought, as a man who believes in practicality rather than abstract theories. He understands that the war requires him to do some things that he does not believe in. He also realizes that, though he cannot forget the unsavory deeds he has done in the past, he must avoid dwelling on them for the sake of getting things done in the present. Ultimately, Robert Jordan is able to make room in his mind for both his love for Maria and his military mission. By the end of the novel, just before he dies, his internal conflicts and tensions are resolved and he feels “integrated” into the world.
(©2009 SparkNotes LLC)
Pablo – guerrilla leader
By jgnikkila © 2005-2009 Listal.com
Pablo, the exasperating leader of the guerrilla band, is a complex character and an unpredictable force in the novel—a man who is difficult to like but ultimately difficult to condemn unwaveringly. Pablo and Robert Jordan view each other with mutual suspicion and dislike from the start: Pablo adamantly opposes the bridge operation and views Robert Jordan as a threat to the guerrilleros’ safety, while Robert Jordan senses that Pablo will betray the guerrilleros and sabotage the mission. Hemingway uses a variety of unflattering imagery to highlight Pablo’s uncooperative and confrontational nature, often comparing Pablo to a bull, a boar, and other stubborn and unpleasant animals.
In virtually all of his actions, Pablo displays a selfish lack of restraint, an irresponsible individualism that contrasts with Robert Jordan’s pragmatic and morally motivated outlook. Pablo rashly follows his impulses, whether in the cruel slaughter of the Fascists in his hometown or in the theft of Robert Jordan’s explosives. Although this self-indulgence made Pablo a strong and courageous fighter when he was younger, it now proves a liability, for it sows dissent within the guerrilla band and jeopardizes the mission. As Pilar says, Pablo once would have sacrificed anything for the Republican cause but has “gone bad” as the war has dragged on and now wavers in his loyalties.
Despite Pablo’s disagreeable characteristics, however, he is not an evil man, and we cannot label him a villain. Although he is stubborn, rash, and sometimes brutal, Pablo displays a clear sense of conscience and realizes when he has done something wrong. He wishes he could bring back to life the Fascists he massacred in his town, and he characterizes his theft of Robert Jordan’s explosives as a “moment of weakness.” At the same time, however, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Pablo feels remorse over a deed only after it’s too late to do anything about it. Above all, Pablo fears death and is exhausted with the war. He simply wants the war to end so that he may live a peaceful life in the country along with Pilar and his horses—a sentiment that is difficult to judge harshly. Ironically, it is Pablo, not Robert Jordan, who survives at the end of the novel. However, although Pablo stays alive, he does so without the moral strength that Robert Jordan maintains and develops throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls.
(©2009 SparkNotes LLC)
Arguably the most colorful and likable character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pilar embodies the earthiness, strength, and wisdom of the Spanish peasantry. A large, robust, part-gypsy woman, Pilar exercises great influence over the band of guerrilleros—in fact, we quickly become aware that Pablo leads the band in name only. The strong and stable Pilar provides the motivating force behind many of the novel’s events. She pushes Robert Jordan and Maria’s romance, commands the allegiance of the guerrilla fighters, and organizes the guerrilleros’ brief alliance with El Sordo. She acts as the support structure for the camp as she unites the band of guerrilla fighters into a family, cooks for all, and sews Robert Jordan’s packs. In short, Pilar manipulates the most important characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls and sets in place many of the encounters that drive the plot.
Pilar, though practical, often relies on intuitive, mystical, gypsy folk wisdom. Shrewd and worldly-wise, she claims a deep connection to the primitive forces of fate. She claims to be able to smell death, and she describes the smell in repulsively naturalistic detail. She reads palms and interprets sexual experiences. Despite Robert Jordan’s cynicism, Pilar’s predictions do come true. Pilar exhibits the inevitable sadness that comes with knowledge: “Neither bull force nor bull courage lasted, she knew now, and what did last? I last. . . . But for what?” In the end, the only aspect of Pilar’s personality that seems not to show wisdom is her unswerving commitment to and belief in the Republican side, which ultimately loses the war.
(©2009 SparkNotes LLC)
The young, gentle Maria catches Robert Jordan’s eye from the moment he meets her. She exudes a natural, glowing beauty, despite the fact that she has recently suffered a traumatic rape and has had most of her hair shorn off. Though she is vulnerable and lays her emotions bare, she exhibits an inner strength, determination, and resilience that enable her to bear her difficult circumstances. Some critics contend that Hemingway intends Maria to represent the land of Spain itself, ravaged by the warring forces beyond her comprehension, yet always enduring, beautiful, and loving. Indeed, Hemingway frequently uses earth imagery to describe Maria, comparing her hair to the “golden brown of a grain field” and her breasts to “small hills.” In this light, Robert Jordan’s closeness with Maria mirrors his closeness with Spain, his adopted country.
As Robert Jordan’s love interest, Maria provides the impetus for his personal development from an unfeeling thinker and doer to a romantic individual. In his conversations with General Golz and with Maria early in the novel, Robert Jordan reveals his belief that he does not have time for women during the war. Even after Robert meets Maria, he remains closed to extreme emotion or romance. Though in love with her, Robert Jordan still shuts her out whenever he must think about his work. However, by the end of the novel, Robert Jordan thanks Maria for everything that she has taught him and faces the day of his mission noting that he has integrated his commitments to work and to love. Maria, determined to embrace their love fully, teaches Robert Jordan how to resolve his tensions between love and work.
Some critics of For Whom the Bell Tolls consider Maria a weak link in the novel because her characterization depends so heavily on the effect she has on Robert Jordan rather than on her own motivations and conflicts. These critics argue that Maria’s submissiveness and the speed with which her affair with Robert Jordan progresses are unrealistic. They assert that Maria is not a believable character but rather a stereotype or the embodiment of a male fantasy. Some feminist critics have blanched at Hemingway’s treatment of Maria’s rape, especially at the fact that sexual intercourse with Robert Jordan appears to heal Maria instantaneously. But although Maria does come across as a rather static character, this flatness renders her symbolic importance all the more apparent. Maria’s lovely image endures beyond the last pages of the novel, an emblem of a land that maintains its beauty, strength, and dignity in the face of forces that threaten to tear it apart.
(©2009 SparkNotes LLC)