For Whom the Bell Tolls ★★★

An awful lot of movie. Hemingway's story of teamwork, discord and derring-do during the Spanish Civil War is given an exhausting 170-minute treatment through Paramount's Technicolor resources and a pair of disheveled stars, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, both good but handily upstaged by Oscar winner Katina Paxinou as unforgettable guerilla lifer Pilar. Her performance serves as a direct rebuke of studio-system reduction and ignorance of atypical female roles and it's a pretty terrific thing to see in a 1943 film. But despite the sprawl, this can't escape the feeling -- familiar from so many other literary adaptations -- that it's a summary of a much more emotionally sophisticated work, so airy and detached it seems to go away as soon as you're finished watching it; even if Hemingway's sensibility isn't the sort of thing that sends me excitedly running, it's hard to really see the point of the dilution, but it is fitfully entertaining with a cathartic climax, and visually striking at times (though it also contains some of the worst painted backdrops I've ever seen).

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