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Ernest Hemingway (novel written by)


Dudley Nichols


Sam Wood

produced by:


distributed by:

Paramount (1948) / Universal-CIC (1978) / Universal (2003)

dubbing direction:

Riccardo Cucciolla (1978 edition) / Oreste Rizzini (2003 edition)

editing society:

CDC (1948 edition) / CD (1978 edition) / CVD (2003 edition)



Gary Cooper:

Romolo Costa (1948) / Pino Colizzi (1978) / Massimo Lodolo (2003)

Ingrid Bergman:

Lydia Simoneschi (1948) / Vittoria Febbi (1978) / Claudia Balboni (2003)

Akim Tamiroff:

Mario Besesti (1948) / Sergio Fiorentini (1978) / Vittorio Congia (2003)

Katina Paxinou:

Lola Braccini (1948) / Anna Miserocchi (1978) / Solvejg D’Assunta (2003)

1948 edition
1978 edition
2003 edition

For whom the bell tolls
USA 1943

“For whom the bell tolls”, written by Ernest Hemingway, is one of the most famous novels of the 20th Century and in 1943, one of the most loved films in the story of cinema was created from it, directed by Sam Wood and produced with great splendour by Paramount. The theme of “For whom the bell tolls” is inspired by events of the 1937 Spanish Civil War. Robert Jordan is an idealogical American professor, an infiltrator amongst partisans and a dynamite expert. He joins a guerrilla group hiding out in the mountains near Segovia to involve them in his secret mission: the destruction of a bridge in a strategic location in enemy territory. Robert falls in love with the young Maria, a Spanish girl raped by fascists and cared for like a daughter by Pilar, the gypsy wife of the head of the rebel group, Pablo. The mission is a success but the nationalists counterattack: Robert is mortally wounded and, after a heartbreaking goodbye to the desperate Maria, stays behind and armed with a machine gun, waits for the enemy so that his friends can escape.

It was Hemingway himself who declared that in the role of the two stars, Robert and Maria, he would have gladly seen his friend Gary Cooper and the new Swedish star of Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman, who had recently successfully interpreted the role of a prostitute in “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” alongside Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner. At first the film was to be produced by Paramount and directed by none other than Cecil B. De Mille, but, when he renounced the project, the director’s role went to Sam Wood, who had, amongst other experiences, the famous Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1939 and had directed, without credit, some scenes of “Gone with the wind”. The first shots of long fields and battle scenes took place in November 1941, before completion of the final casting and even before Dudley Nichols finalised his brilliant screenwriting work. Reassured of the presence of Cooper and Bergman (who got the part after the ballerina Vera Zorina was rejected) the cast was completed with names like Fortunio Bonanova (Fernando), Joseph Calleia (El Sordo) and many others. Akim Tamiroff got the second main male role (the drunkard mischief-maker Pablo) whilst Katina Paxinou, a big Greek theatre star, got the part of the “pasionaria” Pilar. Paxinou declared: “Vengo da una generazione di guerriglieri. Mio nonno, a soli 14 anni era ricercato e si rifugiò a Creta. Mia nonna imparò a leggere da un capo di guerriglieri in una caverna dell’isola. La conosco, Pilar. Molto bene.” “I come from a generation of guerrillas. My grandfather, at only 14 years of age was a wanted man and found refuge in Crete. My grandmother was taught to read by a guerrilla head in a cave on the island. I know her, Pilar. Very well.”

The couple Cooper/Bergman shone in the roles of Robert and Maria, the two passionate lovers who live a life of love and courage in four unforgettable days. The splendid scenery of William Cameron Menzies, photographed in glorious Technicolor by Ray Rennahan did the rest. The film was distributed as a “roadshow attraction” in chosen cinemas, in the Summer of 1943. It was a huge success both for critics and public alike and cost three million dollars. It received nine Oscar candidations (film, actor, actress, second male actor, second female actress, color photography, editing, scenography and costumes). Unfortunately only Katina Paxinou won a statue.

The original version of the film lasted 170 minutes and, after its’ “roadshow” distribution in a few chosen cinemas, Wood eliminated some scenes, bringing the length of the film to 156 minutes. In the mid 1950’s, Paramount re-edited the film with further cuts which brought the length to 130 minutes. For many years this was the only available version. In more recent years, after the copyright acquisition on behalf of Universal in 1970, a copy of the 156 minute version on nitrate film in Technicolor was found by UCLA Film Archives in a private collection of the Library of Congress. From this copy, in 1995 the missing scenes from the Paramount re-edition were extracted (the old negatives had all been destroyed) and the film was once more distributed by Universal, in the original 156 minute version.

The first Italian version of the film which dates back to it’s first release in our cinemas in the Spring of 1948 was the long version (with some small censorship cuts when the screenplay refers to Italian fascist responsibility in the Spanish war). The great dubbers of the CDC Lydia Simoneschi (Bergman), Romolo Costa (Cooper), Lola Braccini (Paxinou) and Mario Besesti (Tamiroff) transferred those unforgettable interpretations into our language. Unfortunately that particular dubbing was coupled with the 130 minute version of the film. A slightly longer version (135 minutes) of the film was distributed in Italy in a re-edition in Spring 1978, by the International Cinema Corporation which, with the Universal trademark, was re-launching the film worldwide (and in Spain for the first time). A new admirable dubbing, by Riccardo Cucciolla, was prepared for this re-edition. This time, the voices given to Hemingway’s characters were Pino Colizzi (Cooper), Vittoria Febbi (Bergman), Anna Miserocchi (Paxinou) and Sergio Fiorentini (Tamiroff). This “modern” re-dubbing has unfortunately disappeared for some time now. It would be desirable to re-find it, in so much that added to the excellent and inspired cast, it would be a praiseworthy Italian adaptation full of direct references to the story absent even in the original screenplay. For example it’s in this version that we hear Cooper/Colizzi call Bergman “coniglietto” (little rabbit), like Jordan does in the story and it’s not rare to hear some touches of sourness of speech typical of Hemingway which peeps out from a script which also in the original version always tries to be “educated”. On the occasion of the first television transmission of the film, the Rai, as had already happened with “Gone with the Wind”, prefers dubbing of the past, unfortunately nowadays available only in the shortened version. Wishing to analyse this first dubbing, it must be said that it’s very fascinating. Simoneschi, Braccini and Besesti shine but unfortunately Romolo Costa doesn’t uphold Cooper’s heroic role very well and his tone of voice ages the character a lot but which regains youthful and romantic tones with Colizzi in 1978.

The Italian dubbing story of this classic has its final chapter in 2003 when, surprisingly, Universal, for the release of the restored version of the film in dvd, instead of using Studio Universal’s master, already assembled for the 1948 shortened dubbing, decides to re-dub the film from the beginning ex novo in all the major languages of the long version. So a new “ad hoc” international track is thus prepared which includes the parts which were used for the 130 minute version, thus filling the gaps and the necessary breaks due to the added scenes, with musical excerpts taken from a discographic incision of the soundtrack made in the 70’s and from the “overture” and “Intermission music” already present in the master. The dubbing is entrusted to CVD, under the direction of Oreste Rizzini. The result does not lose out at all in comparison to the two previous dubbings. As far as the adaptation is concerned, a precise and quite faithful bearing of the 1948 version was created, adapting ex-novo all the missing parts; finally we learn, without any censorship, that enemy planes which fly over Pablo’s encampment are, as Jordan says, “German and Italian”. In another important scene Jordan declares that «non è solo la Spagna a combattere qui ma la Germania e l’Italia da una parte e la Russia dall’altra» (it’s not only Spain fighting here but also Germany and Italy on the one side and Russia on the other”). «I nazisti ed i fascisti sono contro la democrazia… e usano questo paese come terreno di prova per la loro macchina da guerra». (The Nazis and the Fascists are against democracy…and use this country as a practise area for their war machines). Amongst the dubbers of the new edition it’s a duty to at least mention the intense Claudia Balboni (Ingrid Bergman), the romantic Massimo Lodolo (Cooper), the magnetic Solvejg d’Assunta (Katina Paxinou) and the scournful Vittorio Congia (Tamiroff). Some confrontations between famous lines of the three dubbed versions show that in 1948, Roberto and Maria at their first meeting use the formal “voi” form («Vi chiamate?» «Maria. E voi?» «Roberto»). In 1978 they use the familiar “tu” form («Come ti chiami?» «Maria, e tu?») and today in the dvd they use the formal “lei” form of address («Come si chiama?» «Maria, e lei?»). In the Italian translation of the novel (by Maria Napolitano Martone) they address themselves with the familiar “tu” form (thus the more philologically correct dubbing is the 1978 version). When, during their famous last night together, Maria says to Robert without mincing words that, when they live together «at night we’ll make love», the first adaptor in 1948 quickly hid the meaning with the line “I shall come and visit you during the night” «la notte verrò a trovarti»; in 1978 and also in the current version Maria clearly says that «la notte faremo l’amore» (at night we will make love”). To conclude, thanks to Universal and to CVD we can appreciate and enjoy this great classic in a new and unabridged version.

[original review in Italian by Nunziante Valoroso]


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