I settled in to watch this movie not expecting much because of its awkward almost banal title; BELLS WITHOUT JOY. Its well-known cast is what convinced me to bother with it at all. The best performance is by Paul Meurisse of LES DIABOLIQUES. By film's end I was genuinely moved by its very gradual build up of character, tension and tight plot. The first three quarters of this true-life story feature no battle scenes. Instead, we get a stand-off involving a small troop of clever French soldiers guarding a small Tunisian town from a large, well-armed division of German soldiers. The only hope for the town is a large advancing army of American soldiers fifty miles away that was sent to free all of Tunisia from German threat. Adding to the peril is the fact that many of the townspeople are Jewish as they would most definitely be mercilessly slaughtered at the hands of the German soldiers. Well-choreographed battle scenes add to the excitement of the explosive last act which looks particularly good in widescreen format.
Thankfully, German characters speak in German with subtitles. Even the American characters sound American, rare for a European movie of that era. One stand out scene involves an African-American soldier playing a soulful jazz tune on his company bugle while a white soldier in his desegregated platoon explains to a French ally that he is from a sadly segregated Louisina.
I would rate this film up there with another fine French effort in the war movie genre; TAXI FOR TOBRUK. Catch this one if you can.
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