For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943): Heminway’s Tale, Starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in her First Oscar-Nominated Performance

The romantic interest features as prominently as the war heroics in Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, based on Ernest Hemingway’s popular novel, which he allegedly wrote with Gary Cooper in mind.

When the book was sold to Paramount, Hemingway stated that “Miss Bergman, and no one else should play the part.” He was very impressed with her first American role, Intermezzo, although he hadn’t yet met her. When they did meet, he examined her at length and then said, “You are Maria!”

Cooper plays Robert Jordan, a courageous American teacher fighting with the guerrilla forces in the Spanish Civil War. As soon as Jordan falls in love with Maria (Ingrid Bergman), an orphan who had been raped by the Nationalist soldiers, the film changes its focus.

“It was a great picture, without political significance, said Paramount’s head Adolph Zukor. “We are not for or against anybody.”  During the production, there were rumors (denied by Paramount) of political pressures and interference from representatives of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who was sensitive about being called fascist, and by American officials who did not want to offend neutral Spain. In the end, politically speaking, it was another vague, middle-of-the-road film

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” received tremendous publicity because of its potentially controversial politics and public interest in whether the novel’s famous scene of Jordan and Maria sharing a sleeping bag would be depicted on screen; the sleeping bag was in but no one could tell whether the lovers were in or out of it.
Released in the midst of WWII, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was a blockbuster, solidifying the star power of Ingrid Bergman (who that year also made “Casablanca”) and Gary Cooper, hot on the heels of wining his first Best Actor Oscar for Howard Hawks’ WWI biopic-saga, “Sergeant York” (1941).

The film presents Hemingway’s notion of masculine adventurism, conveying Jordan’s single-minded commitment to the task of blowing up a strategic bridge in a mountain pass.  Yet, artistically, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is so diffuse, tedious in pace, and replete with close-ups (of Cooper and Bergman’s tearful farewell), that all we remember is the romance and the stars.

Oscar Nominations: 9

Picture, produced by Sam Wood

Actor: Gary Cooper

Actress: Ingrid Bergman

Supporting Actress: Katina Paxinou

Supporting Actor: Akim Tamiroff

Interior Decoration (color): Hans Dreier and Haldane Douglas

Cinematography (color): Ray Rennahan

Editing: Sherman Todd and John Link

Score: Victor Young

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

This was the last year, in which ten films were nominated for Best Picture. In 1944, the top category was standardized to include five nominees (as in most categories).

In 1943, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” competed for the Best Picture with “Casablanca” (which won), “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Human Comedy,” “In Which We Serve,” “Madame Curie,” “The More the Merrier,” “The Ox-Bow Incident,” “The Song of Bernadette,” and “Watch on the Rhine.”

The most nominated films were “The Song of Bernadette” (10), followed by “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (9). Though at the top of his form, Bogart lost the Oscar to Paul Lukas for “Watch on the Rhine,” which won the Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle. Bogart’s co-star, Ingrid Bergman was nominated for Best Actress in Paramount’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Akim Tamiroff lost the Supporting Actor Oscar to Charles Coburn for “The More the Merrier.” “The Phantom of the Opera” won the Color Cinematography and Interior Decoration. George Amy won the Editing Oscar for the War film “Air Force,” and Alfred Newman won the Scoring award for “The Song of Bernadette.”

Oscar Trivia

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is one of the few films in Oscar’s history, which garnered nominations for its performers in all four acting categories: Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress.