In a human omelet which included Dorothy Lamour and Myrna Loy, an audience of 2,089 packed into Manhattan's Rivoli Theater to witness the most important screen premiere since Gone With the Windthe first showing of For Whom the Bell Tolls.
For months, for years, the buildup had been developing; and not just the buildup but all the restthe astronomically expanding budget, the ten thousand rumors and denials of political censorship, the interminable and ill-explained delays, like those whirs, buzzes and hangings which take place behind the curtain on the night Hamlet turns up drunk in a Hawaiian skirt. The audience was getting restless. But it was still eager. It knew Paramount had in Ernest Hemingway's novel the possibilities of one of the best pictures, greatest popular entertainments and most colossal money-makers ever produced. It wanted to see the new superproduction, the Gone With the Wind with hair on its chest and ideology in its hair. It wanted to see precisely for whom, in Paramount's endlessly considered and fabulously invested opinion, The Bell did, or did not, toll.
As it turned out, the tremendous Bell, upon whose casting Paramount had spent three years and nearly three million dollars, tolled for nobody in particular, and tolled off key at that.
Feat and Defeat. There was fine stuff in it, in great ill-digested, nervous chunks. But For Whom the Bell Tolls was not, by the kindest stretching of critical standards, a good picture. Nor was it reliable entertainment. Nor was the likelihood that it would pay its way more than a string of subjunctives.* It was, on a grand scale, a defeat of Hollywood by Hollywood. Censorship defeated it, and timidity; heavy investment defeated it, and pretentiousness; the very expectation of the public defeated it; and the desperate, driven, split, muddled desire to make a great picture and a great hit. It was a spectacular public demonstration of a fact often neglected in Hollywoodthe fact that great entertainment depends upon some degree of good artistry, and that the effective functioning of artistry can be crippled by too anxious attention to entertainment.
For the person who was most likely to salvage the picture was also the best artist in the company, and the most simply attentive to an artist's job. Whoever else may have fumbled at the rope or muffled the clapper, the 27-year-old Swedish actress, Ingrid Bergman, hit the Bell such a valiant and far-sounding clang that there had been nothing like it since her great compatriot Greta Garbo enchanted half the world.
Whatever might be said for and against the productionand there was much to sayone fact was beyond argument: a great new star had been born; perhaps even, many felt, a great new actress.
The Great New Star. Five years ago, when David Oliver Selznick, like a disguised Zeus, first started pawing up the turf and lowing in her vicinity, Ingrid Bergman was no easily-carried-away Europa. She was turning down offers, with the cool statement that she was doing very nicely as she was.