Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bells Are Ringing (1960)


"I'm in love, with a man.
Plaza o double four double three.
What a perfect relationship.
I can't see him, he can't see me.
I'm in love, with a voice.
Plaza o double four double three.
What a perfect relationship
I talk to him, and he just talks to me."

During the late 1950s things weren't looking up for actress Judy Holliday. Her marriage to David Oppenheim was over. She had been summoned by the House Un-American Activities Committee and although she wasn't blacklisted her movie career suffered as a result. Things needed to change for the better and quickly. In steps in her good friends Adolph Green and Betty Comden, the writing duo behind many stellar musicals on stage and on the big screen. Inspired by Holliday's time as a switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre, Comden and Green create a musical with her in mind. It becomes a huge hit on Broadway with over 900 performances before MGM picks it up and adapts it for screen. The end result is a sparkling musical that serves as a last hurrah for the brilliant Judy Holliday: Bells Are Ringing (1960).

The film stars Judy Holliday as Ella Peterson. She lives and works with her two roommates in a dilapidated freestanding brownstone in New York City. The three of them run a service called Susanswerphone, an answering service for everyone from artists, to local businesses to busy socialites. Ella has a soft spot for her clients and becomes personally involved with them, much to the dismay of her boss and roommate Sue (Jean Stapleton) who wants to keep things strictly business. The thing is Ella is starting to fall in love with the man behind Plaza-04433, Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin). He's a writer working on his newest musical The Midas Touch. However he's down and out because his writing partner left him and he'd rather drink than face writing by himself. In steps Ella to save the day. Jeffrey thinks Ella is really a 60 year old lady and lovingly refers to her as "Mom". When Ella meets Jeffrey in person she pretends to be Melisande Scott and they fall in love.

A wrench is thrown in the works when two police inspectors have their eye on bringing down Susanswerphone. They suspect it's really some sort of escort service. Sue puts pressure on Ella to be on her best behavior and having a romance with Jeffrey could ruin everything. To complicate things further, Sue is smitten with J. Otto Prantz (Eddie Foy Jr.), the leader of a bookie ring who disguises his illegal activity behind the ruse of the classical music distribution company Titanic Records. Unbeknownst to the smitten Sue and her two roommates, Otto is taking bets on horse races under the guise of orders for Beethoven symphonies and the like.

Ella can't help herself. She wants to help Jeffrey but she also wants to help the dentist who dreams of  being a songwriter and local beatnik Blake Barton (Frank Gorshin) who dreams of making it big as an actor. She wants to help everyone but doesn't want hurt the business either. What's a gal to do?

Judy Holliday sneaks into Dean Martin's apartment in Bells Are Ringing (1960)

With plenty of memorable musical numbers, fun characters and a zany plot with a satisfying ending, Bells Are Ringing (1960) is sure to please. Having seen the film several times recently I've fallen completely head over heels for it. Judy Holliday is so charming. It's her final film role and her only leading part in a color movie which makes it extra special and something to treasure. My favorite numbers of hers are It's a Perfect Relationship, a delightful song you'll find yourself singing over and over again, and the somber The Party's Over. The Titanic Records/bookie scheme is brilliantly explained in It's A Simple Little System lead by Eddie Foy Jr. Let's not forget Dean Martin who has several great solo songs and duets with Holliday. In addition to Comden and Green, Bells Are Ringing features powerhouses from movie musicals including director Vincente Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, musical director Andre Previn and songwriter Jule Styne.

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Bells Are Ringing (1960) was begging to be brought out on Blu-Ray and the good folks at Warner Archive heard the call and did just that. Seeing Judy Holliday don a gorgeous red party dress in the brilliant color only Blu-Ray can bring makes the whole thing worthwhile. The Blu-Ray includes several extras including two deleted musical numbers and an alternate version of The Midas Touch scene and the film's trailer. There is also a featurette from the 2005 DVD release which includes archival footage of Comden and Green discussing the movie, an interview with Hal Linden, who was Sydney Chaplin's understudy for the role of Jeffrey Moss on Broadway, as well as an interview with actor Frank Gorshin. I love that the Blu-Ray has English subtitles and a song selection menu which gave me an opportunity to play my favorites over and over again while also learning the lyrics.

The story of this film has a somber note as well. Holliday had a rough time making the picture. Ever the perfectionist she wanted it to be just as good as the Broadway production. She had a love affair with Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie Chaplin, and her co-star on Broadway. That relationship ended before MGM started production on the film. It was inevitable that they had to replace Chaplin. Vincente Minnelli had just made Some Came Running with Dean Martin so he was a natural choice for the role. Holliday was sick during the making of Bells Are Ringing and died 5 years later of breast cancer. It's a shame we don't have more time with her. It makes films like this all the more special.

Bells are Ringing (1960) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive. Their Blu-Rays are pressed discs and not made on demand like their DVDs. You'll definitely want to pick up a copy of this one!




Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me Bells Are Ringing (1960) for review!

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