One year, one film: 1960
Bells Are Ringing, dir. Vincente Minnelli
Starring Judy Holliday and Dean Martin
Recommended | HIGHLY RECOMMENDED | Must-See
When you blend one masterful musical director, one member of the Rat Pack, one very lovable lead actress, and a song name-dropping a gaggle of classic Hollywood stars, you get this: Bells Are Ringing, a delightful film from 1960. Judy Holliday, our lovable lead actress, stars as a switchboard operator who takes messages for people when they’re not home. The woman, named Ella, goes a step beyond with the job, forming over-the-phone friendships with her clients and helping them keep their schedules in check.
One of those clients is our Rat Pack member, Dean Martin. He stars as a playwright who desperately needs Ella’s help. He sleeps through most of his appointments and would be nowhere without Ella’s schedule-making, mess-fixing, and appointment-rescheduling. Ella has kind of fallen for the guy, but there’s just one problem: He thinks she’s a 60-year-old woman — because she told him so!
Hijinks ensue as Ella tries to keep her identity a secret, and tries to evade the suspicions of an investigator who is about two seconds away from figuring out what she really does for all of her clients. Bells Are Ringing is a delightfully funny film, as bright in its cinematography’s color palette as it is in mood.
But did the critics of 1960 enjoy Dan Martin’s telephone-operator romance?
Variety acknowledged that Bells Are Ringing may not have been the best musical ever (a tough choice to make considering how many wonderful musicals exist in Minnelli’s filmography alone), but still made for a highly enjoyable film. As Broadway adaptations go, “few have been translated to the screen so effectively,” the review stated. Both Martin and Holliday are described as giving top-notch performances. On the whole, the film is “a pleasant yarn” with “rather inspired musical numbers.” For his part, Minnelli’s direction is described as “graceful” and “imaginative.”
Our old pal Bosley Crowther of The New York Times did not have kind words for the original Broadway writers, nor the adapted screenplay that brought their story to Hollywood. The songs? Weak, by Crowther’s estimation. He wasn’t a fan of Dean Martin, saying that he “is short of material, but he dribbles away what he has.” Crowther does seem to have adored Judy Holliday’s performance, however, praising her comedic talents and saying that she “makes the show amusing.”
Bells Are Ringing was the very talented Judy Holliday’s final film. She played the Ella roll on stage and got to bring it to life on screen for her last Hollywood performance. While I liked the film on the whole better than Bosley Crowther did, I have to agree with his assessment that she’s the best part of it. She would, sadly, pass away of cancer almost exactly five years after the release of Bells Are Ringing, but the film stands as a testament to her comedic talent, musical talent, and ability to elevate the material she worked with. It comes highly recommended from me!