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Ella Peterson is a Brooklyn telephone answering service operator who tries to improve the lives of her clients by passing along bits of information she hears from other clients. She falls in love with one of her clients, the playwright Jeffrey Moss, and is determined to meet him. The trouble is, on the phone to him, she always pretends to be an old woman whom he calls "Mom." Written by
Since the play, "Laurette," was never realized, the movie version of "Bells are Ringing" serves as Judy Holliday's "final" performance.
It's to her credit that she comes off as well as she does. The film is extremely stagey, and looks contrived and bloated, despite a most competent cast and director.
Yet Holliday is buoyant, full of fun, and energetic--all hallmarks of her theatrical persona.
I've read Holliday's complete bio, and am amazed she was able to overcome the tremendous obstacles she endured, from her sad childhood and family relationship through the communist "witch hunt" period--which left her saddled with protest pickets that followed her around--to failed marriages, lack of employment, and care giving responsibilities for her child and parent. All the while working wherever she could and keep smiling.
In many respects her career is quite similar to that of Montgomery Clift. Both apparently gave their best work on the stage, night after night before live audiences, rather than on film. Had both stayed in the theatre, their respective careers and lives might have remained more stable and healthy--and be alive today.
"Bells are Ringing" is a final tribute to a great talent, an Oscar-winning actress and comedienne who graced the stage and screen with a radiant presence and winning demeanor. Fortunately, as long as her films are shown, Judy Holliday will live and be rediscovered by future generations.
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