Luke Thorne’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sam Wood directs this Oscar-winning drama in which an American allied with the Republicans finds romance during a desperate mission. Starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is the only technicolour film that Sam Wood received a directing credit for. Not only this, but it was also Ingrid Bergman’s first colour film too – and the result is a very impressive one.
In Sam Wood’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's well-known novel, which was published three years earlier, uncompromising American Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) journeys to Spain to take part in the paramilitary forces contrasting ruler Francisco Franco.
Robert, who is given the hazardous mission of destroying a significant bridge that lies behind opponent lines, gets unfocussed when he falls in love with partisan Spanish girl María (Ingrid Bergman) at base camp. As Robert’s love for María increases, he starts to doubt his project, his government and his residence in this overseas battle.
Gary Cooper gives a very good performance in his role as Robert, the man who knows he has to destroy the bridge otherwise consequences will happen and shows plenty of determination in the process, while also finding romance along the way.
Elsewhere, Ingrid Bergman is excellent in her role as María, the Spanish woman who Robert falls in love with her and she becomes very concerned for him as the movie goes along – you can really tell this because of some of the lines she says in a powerful way. Bergman suits her role very well and this confirmed she would be an actress to watch following the hugely successful Casablanca a year earlier.
There are solid supporting performances to be had from Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou (in her film debut) playing the roles of Pablo and Pilar. Pablo is the middle-aged man who also falls in love with María, while Pilar is Pablo’s wife who makes her feelings very clear and even steals some scenes in the process. They both suit their roles very well and make the most of their screen time.
The direction from Wood is excellent because he allows the facial expressions to be seen to a strong effect throughout, while also keeping a tense atmosphere happening as well and the script is written to a decent standard by Dudley Nichols as he makes the movie good to follow.
The set, camera, music and editing stand out best in terms of the technical aspects in glorious technicolour, because the set is terrific to look at throughout; the camera makes very good use of the locations and also captures the tense and dramatic moments well, which deservedly get the edge-of-the-seat status; the music is very enjoyable to listen to; the film is edited to an excellent effect.
The movie managed to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Katina Paxinou) and this was deserved, while the movie also rightly got nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Supporting Actor (Akim Tamiroff), Best Production Design (Colour), Best Cinematography (Colour), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Film Editing. How did Sam Wood not get recognised for his direction??
Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou both won Golden Gloves in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories respectively and I am glad Tamiroff won something rather than nothing.
Overall, For Whom the Bell Tolls is an excellent adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, due to the brilliant performances from Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff and Katrina Paxinou, along with Sam Wood’s direction, the well written script and technical aspects. It’s possibly the best war film to have been made in the year of this release.