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Spain in the 1930s is the place to be for a man of action like Robert Jordan. There is a civil war going on and Jordan who has joined up on the side that appeals most to idealists of that era -- like Ernest Hemingway and his friends -- has been given a high-risk assignment up in the mountains. He awaits the right time to blow up a bridge in a cave. Pilar, who is in charge there, has an ability to foretell the future. And so that night she encourages Maria, a young girl ravaged by enemy soldiers, to join Jordan who has decided to spend the night under the stars. Written by
Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film opens with a tolling bell and a quotation from John Donne's "No Man Is an Island." Then the action literally explodes on the screen with an act of sabotage by Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper), who has just struck a blow for the young Spanish Republic against the fascist Nationalists. As one of about 60,000 foreigners who have come to fight for Spain's freedom, Jordan's story plays out against a background of cataclysmic world events.
Jordan is immediately assigned the task of blowing up an important bridge behind the Nationalist lines in the Guadarrama Mountains, near Segovia. The main story line follows him as he joins a ragtag troop of guerrillas in pursuit of his mission. The guerrillas are led by the forceful Pilar, in an Academy Award-winning portrayal by Katina Paxinou. An equally pivotal character in the band is cunning, treacherous Pablo (Akim Tamiroff), who may at any moment defect to the Nationalist side if it profits him. The guerrillas are a motley crew of pan- European characters, each with his own life story and reason for being in that place at that time.
And then there is the innocent, vulnerable, incredibly beautiful Maria (Ingrid Bergman), who was rescued from Nationalist rapists and is now protected by the guerrillas. Under Pilar's watchful eye Robert and Maria fall in love. With the signing of Ingrid Bergman to play the role of Maria, Paramount jumped on the post-"Casablanca" bandwagon. Echoes of the earlier film that were not in Hemingway's novel crop up as Robert morphs from the stalwart freedom fighter to the lover who is torn between duty and love.
A lengthy film of about 160 minutes, FWTBT takes time to explore the relationships between characters, even the lesser lights. We find out who is strong and weak, who is in favor of the war and who is not, and get a glimpse into how each one might react when the chips are down. A particularly meaningful interchange is when Robert explains to the guerrillas that although the Communists are on their side (under orders from the Soviet Cominterm), the fascist governments of Germany and Italy are supplying the Nationalists with Panzer tanks and Stuka dive-bombers. In reality those governments were testing their armament in preparation for the coming world war.
SPOILER: The end of the film is a whirlwind series of scenes in which Robert almost single- handedly demolishes the bridge as the Nationalist army approaches. Then fate takes a hand. To escape, the guerrillas must ride across an open area through a hail of enemy machine-gun and light artillery fire. Everyone makes it across but Robert, bringing up the rear, who is blown from his horse by an exploding shell. Too wounded to ride, Robert must be left behind with a machine-gun to slow the advance of the Nationalists.
With courage and great pain Robert delivers his "hill of beans" and "where I'm going you can't follow" speeches to Maria. He promises that they will be together in spirit but stops short of saying, "We'll always have Guadarrama."
Maria is thrown onto the back of a horse and the band gallops away, her screams fading into the distance. Fighting nausea and unconsciousness, Robert sets up the machine-gun and fires directly into the camera (mirrored at the end of "Bataan" with Robert Taylor). Smoke and cordite fill the screen, and the scene dissolves to the giant bell tolling a warning to mankind.
In 1943 Hemingway and the everyone in the film knew to their sorrow that the Nationalists had won the Civil War in 1939 and that Spain now lived under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. They could not know that, ironically, with Franco's death in 1975 Spain named King Juan Carlos I sovereign of the democratic constitutional monarchy that rules the Kingdom of Spain today.
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