Musical theater team Comden & Green are frequently over-praised for their wit and sparkle, which really comes down to a gift for rhyme and sarcasm. Talented performers have rescued their glib little songs, and so too have nimble directors like Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen (and Gene Kelly). But the C&G weaknesses are exposed in Bells Are Ringing. Confined to drab sets that feel like sets (a drab apartment room that doubles for a telephone answering service business; a playwright’s penthouse), no amount of cutesy stage business can breathe life into a dull “boy meets girl” scenario. Cute phone operator Ella (Judy Holliday) passes on advice to her phone clients; but she falls head over heels in love with playwright Jeffrey (Dean Martin). Problem is, he knows her as an old woman’s voice called “Mom.” What would he think of her in real life? As if the answer were in doubt! Holliday is lost amid those indifferent sets and musical numbers that are overreaching in their charm. C&G knew how to suck up to theater people (within the subgenre, Singin’ in the Rain is their sole redemption), but are hopelessly lost when it comes to presenting average workaday people. On the Town turned sailors and cab drivers into some dumb variation of vain, lapel-grabbing narcissists, and Bells Are Ringing treats the working class Ella as a would-be ingénue in need of a good part. Holliday’s freshness feels slightly calculated, but her cute button face is certainly un-showbiz. Co-star Martin offers nothing but champagne blubbering. The usually whiplash Vincente Minnelli snoozes through this one, moving the camera in flowing master shots that serve up a number of dull “two characters in medium shot” variations. It has the unfortunate effect of being a movie that seems stuck on a Broadway stage. Inexplicably hailed as a winner because it features the last on-screen performance of plucky Judy Holliday, Bells Are Ringing never translates into anything cinematic.
- Vincente Minnelli
- Betty Comden, Adolph Green
- Judy Holliday, Dean Martin, Fred Clark, Eddie Foy Jr., Jean Stapleton, Ruth Storey, Dort Clark, Frank Gorshin
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: