The Catholic Church, the Franco government and the State Department were all afraid that the film of Hemingway’s great novel about the Spanish Civil War would take too strong a stance against fascism. They didn’t know Hollywood.
Horses may send their children to For Whom the Bell Tolls without fear. That offensive word “stallion” (not to be confused with Joseph Stallion) which appeared in Mr. Hemingway’s novel and even in Dudley Nichols’s original script has been changed, in the finished production, to read “blazed face.”
Human beings should proceed more cautiously; else they are liable to be misinformed. When f-sc-sts [ed. note: appears like this in original review] are actually mentioned, the one time they are, the context makes it clear that they are just Italians who, in company with German Nazis and those dirty Russian Communists, are bullyragging each other and poor little Spain, which wants only peace and quiet. In the same speech, if you are not careful, you may easily get the impression that Gary Cooper is simply fighting for the Republican Party in a place where the New Deal has got particularly out of hand. The next speech, which suggests that not all Americans have Mr. Cooper’s disinterested historical foresight, appears in the Nichols script but not on the screen. There is, on the other hand, General Golz’s joke about how full of accents Spain is these days, which I suppose can be regarded as a small triumph by screen workers defeated enough to seek their victories through microscopes. There is a faint hint that Gary Cooper (strictly in character) favors Russian cigarettes; I suppose if it were any more specific the run on Novotnys would be excelled only by the Norway-rat stampede of the millions to fling themselves at Earl Browder’s feet. Miss Bergman is allowed to use the International Brigade’s Salud once when Mr. Cooper says g’by, but when Mr. Cooper is saving a comrade from capture by shooting him through the head, neither of them can bear to say more than adios, though the script read differently. A line of Mr Nichols’s invention, “I come from Stalin,” as it is excitingly delivered by Konstantin Shayne in the best use of a bit in years, may cheer some excitable sectors, I thought it highly ambiguous and, except as a piece of acting, unimportant. Mr. Nichols’s original script is fairly riddled with the word fascist. The release script and the production prefer the word nationalist. I thought I once caught the word phalangist, but it may have been fuh land sakes.
Paramount, in other words, has crashed through. It has covered itself, too, against any pink nigglers who might bring the accusation of dodging political issues. The speech in which Mr. Cooper mentions fascists and the grand old party so misleadingly does at least–and with abominably clumsy hindsight–go on to say that Spain, as the old phrase went, is a proving ground, a dress rehearsal for a greater war. But even this has no more organic connection with the film as a whole than a Gideon Bible has with a hotel bedroom.
There is, on the other hand, Ingrid Bergman. Miss Bergman not only bears a startling resemblance to an imaginable human being; she really knows how to act, in a blend of poetic grace with quiet realism which almost never appears in American pictures. Hemingway’s conception of Maria is partly adolescent I think, and for a while her understanding of the role seems still more so. She seems never to have dreamed that a young girl who has seen death and suffered gang rape cannot in all reason bounce into her role looking like a Palmolive ad. But in many moments of the early love stuff–in flashes of shy candor and in the pleasures of playing femme esclave–she does very pretty things, and later on she does some very powerful ones. Her confession of the rape is an exquisitely managed tearjerker. Her final scene of farewell is shattering to watch. Not that it’s perfect. But its sources and intention are so right, and so astonishingly out of key with the rest of the production. She seems really to have studied what a young woman might feel and look like in such a situation (not a moving picture) – half nauseated and ninetenths insane with grief, forced haste, and utter panic. Semi-achieved though it is, it is devastating and wonderful to see.