Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's poem. A classic American horror film that combines elements of the traditional ghost story, Poe and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." "The Bells" (1926, 68 min.) follows an ambitious innkeeper (L... more »ionel Barrymore) on a downward trajectory into insanity after murdering a wealthy traveler to settle his debts. Though he is not suspected of the crime, the innkeeper is haunted by a hypnotist in a traveling carnival (Boris Karloff), and his conscience is tormented by a blood-smeared apparition of the dead man who comes seeking a confession of his own. "The Bells" is digitally mastered from an original tinted-and-toned nitrate 35mm print and backed with a musical score compiled by Eric Beheim.« less
Steven W. Hill | Chicago, IL United States | 05/24/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"THE BELLS is a 1926 release starring Lionel Barrymore as Mathias the tavern owner. The film is much more melodrama than horror (or even fantasy) but has a touch of grim murder nevertheless. The story begins quite similarly to BABES IN TOYLAND, actually... Mathias is poor yet possesses a generous heart; he is in debt to the cruel Frantz who would gladly settle the debt if he could wed Mathias' daughter Catharine. The plot similarity ends there, however. After establishing Mathias as a kind but ambitious man, we're set up for the event that changes his life - the murder of a wandering Polish Jew (as he is introduced via intertitle) named Baruch. In the meantime, we've also been introduced to the Mesmerist in the person of top-hatted Boris Karloff, leering in memorable fashion. When Baruch's brother comes to the village seeking the murderer, he brings the Mesmerist along and threatens to have him cast a spell which will force the murderer to reveal himself. Mathias, newly elected Burgomaster of the village, will have none of those devilish goings-on.The story is supposedly based on an Edgar (Allan) Poe poem. In reality its only relation to Poe is that the title only matches that of one of his poems. To be honest, though, it's fair to bring Poe to mind regarding the story, because it's got a lot in common with THE TELL-TALE HEART (and other Poe stories) in that it's an all-consuming guilty conscience that drives much of the narrative. The ending is disappointingly abrupt, but it does seem typical of silent movies in general.Despite modern-day second billing, Karloff is only a small player here. He has only a few lines of dialogue (or rather, a few intertitles) but a memorable countenance and sly grin. The movie belongs to Barrymore, sometimes playing scenes with ghosts (double-exposure effects shots). Lola Todd (as Catharine) and Edward Phillips (as local gendarme Christian) are pleasant and make a handsome couple.The print used for the DVD is stunning. Very clean and crisp, no oversharpening, and perfect contrast. There are only two or three instances of jumps caused by missing frames; otherwise there is practically no damage. The packaging says "digitally mastered from an original tinted-and-toned nitrate 35mm print." The DVD transfer is lovely. The musical score is provided by Eric Beheim and "The William Pratt Players" (in honor of Karloff's real name). The score is adequate, played on synthesizers and punctuated by ringing bells when appropriate.Also on the disc is THE CRAZY RAY originally known as PARIS QUI DORT (yet presented on the DVD with the title AT 3:25). This 1922 short may satisfy fantasy fans who felt let down by the preceding feature, at only 18 minutes long it still weaves an energetic and whimsical story about a group of people who find themselves in a Paris in which everyone else is frozen. They eventually discover the scientist who has invented the method of stopping the world, and convince him to reverse the effect. The print is on par with THE BELLS and features some breathtaking views of 1922 Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. This extra helps make the DVD a worthwhile purchase for silent film fans, which leads me to my bottom line: if you count yourself a Lionel Barrymore fan, or an admirer of early screen fantasy, or a Karloff completist, you will want this disc. If you're not sure, you might want to consider renting if possible. There are no other disc contents, just the 68-minute feature and the 18-minute short, and it might not be worth your money to add it to the collection.I hope you found this review useful!"
Bells of conscience ring
Mike Davis | Alexandria, VA USA | 01/16/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Bells, a 1926 release starring Lionel Barrymore as Mathias, an overly-generous tavern owner giving away more than he possesses, owes a great deal to Poe's 'Tell-Tale Heart'. Generosity leads Mathias into considerable debt, in which no resolve seems evident. Along comes Baruch, a wealthy traveler, seeking refuge from a fierce storm. After drinks, he foolishly reveals to Mathias a money-belt containing a great quantity of gold. Seeing no other recourse, Mathias seizes the opportunity to redeem himself as well as pay off his debts via murdering the unsuspecting traveler and taking his gold. Amidst a brutal snowstorm, Mathias kills Baruch, the sound of the sleigh bells reverberating throughout the scene. Once it's over, Mathias returns to his tavern with his ill-gotten fortune. Paying off his debts and marrying his daughter to the chief investigater, Mathias seems to be in the clear. However, in true 'Tell-Tale Heart' fashion, his conscience is tormented by the unrelenting 'bells', seen numerous times in a super-imposed manner. A trial commences and as luck would have it, Mathias oversees the preceding. Earlier in the film, Karoff, appears as a mesmerist, capable of casting a spell that will force the murderer to reveal himself. His role is minor but the possibilities prove endless in regards to the trial. In true Dr Caligari fashion, Karloff delights. His presence is enough to spook Mathias and the trial rapidly ascends into chaos. The print of the film is marvelous. For it's vintage, the picture quality is crisp and for the most part clear of any flaws. A few instances of jitter and film deterioration exist. The musical score provided byEric Beheim is adequate and proves to enhance the film's mood changes. If you're at all fascinated by Gothic horror, Poe, and/or Barrymore or Karloff, this DVD is well worth it. Regardless of whether or not you purchase this disc, a viewing is a must."
I can make criminals confess their crimes...
Steven Hellerstedt | 03/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Generous mill and tavern owner Mathias (Lionel Barrymore) is both politically ambitious and deeply in debt. His dreams of becoming town Burgomaster are endangered when Frantz (Gustav von Seyffertitz) threatens to call in his loan. A type of salvation arrives when a wealthy man stops off at his tavern one Christmas Eve. THE BELLS (1926) is based on the play `Le Juif Polonaise' by Alexandre Chatrian and Emile Erckmann. `Le Juif' was translated to `The Bells' and was a popular English play in its time, from the early 1870s on. It was probably familiar to audiences in 1926, the year the movie THE BELLS was released. You can find texts of the English version fairly easily on the internet; an engaging exercise for those interested in how plays are adapted for the screen. The biggest difference between play and screenplay concerns time and character. The movie compresses both and has, in my opinion, a better product to show for it. In both the stage play and the movie Mathias murders the wealthy stranger and is haunted by the crime, haunted by the sound of the bells on the Polish Jew's sleigh. In the play the crime occurred fifteen years in the past and Mathias is a vaguely sinister character. In the movie the crime happens in the present, and Mathias is a deeply sympathetic character. His troubles are a result not of greed, but of his generosity. There's a ghost of the slain man in the movie that's not in the stage play. The ghost and the bells appear in double-exposed sequences, one of which, Mathias playing cards with the ghost, is a pretty amazing technical achievement. Lionel Barrymore is brilliant as the merchant slowly going mad after committing a crime quite beyond his character. It's a subtle performance that relies a lot on changes in facial expression, a performance that would be lost in the vast spaces of a theater, a performance that could only work on the intimate screen. Although he gets equal billing with Barrymore on the dvd cover, Boris Karloff plays the relatively small role of the Mesmerist. In the play the Mesmerist doesn't appear until the last scene, a dream sequence that signals that the consuming guilt Mathias carries is soon to destroy him. In the movie the Mesmerist is part of a traveling circus that is in town when the murder occurs. Karloff is buried beneath round glasses, high collars and a stovepipe hat, looking every inch the Dr. Caligari character he's obviously modeled on. THE BELLS is going to work best for those comfortable with silent movies. The story unfolds at a different pace than modern movies. The card game with the ghost, for instance, will probably look kind of hokey until you realize the timing and skill needed to pull it off. Some of the conventions of silent movies - tinting indoor scenes green or brown, outdoor scenes blue, etc., take some getting used to, as do the more physical acting styles. The print is in good to very good condition, although there are some instances where it's obvious that a few feet of film have been removed. Less understandable are the few occasions when the image subtly goes in and out of focus. Overall, I thought THE BELLS was a grand treat. Also included on the disk is René Clair's THE CRAZY RAY (1925), a short surrealistic romp about a Paris asleep. THE CRAZY RAY could easily be an episode of the Twilight Zone. Night watchman on Eiffel Tower and planeload of people discover themselves in a Paris where all the people are frozen - it occurring at exactly 3:25 a.m. Of course it's all the doings of a wacky scientist. This is one of Clair's first movies, and it should be noted that it's not the 54 minute French version but instead the 18 minute US release. The film is in good shape, some wear but watchable without distractions. Whoever edited the movie down to 18 minutes did a good job of it. They retained the gist of the story and characters without any noticeable gaps. Somehow I think the 54 minute version might drag a bit. "
Dated but worthwhile
Timothy Ramzyk | Milwaukee, WI United States | 08/28/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I gave this DVD 3 stars, because any thoughtful presentation of a significant silent film deserves at least 3 stars, but that said, as a movie The Bells is more of a 2 star film.
Based on a pretty blatantly antisemitic bit of folklore, The Bells is rather simple morality play that hasn't aged all that well. Lionel Barrymore plays a village innkeeper with ambitions of being elected the town Burgermiester, but he is on the verge of bankruptcy from buying the townspeople's affection with free booze. Then one stormy X-mas Eve a wealthy Jewish businessman visits the Inn, and Barrymore gets him tipsy, then follows through the snow and murders him for his money. Though his debts are settled his conscious is not, and guilt torments him night and day.
I won't give away the end, but had this been a film where the murder victim was not a Jew you would have a more "justice" driven conclusion. There are also plenty of Jewish stereotypes to go around, which is not terribly surprising in a film of this vintage. However, even if you put the antisemitism in context, far too much of the second half is padded out with heavy-handed scenes illustrating Barrymore's guilty conscious, and no real pay-off in the final reel. Fans of Boris Karloff will want this for his early appearance as a mysterious Dr. Caligari-like mesmerist, who is positioned to expose Barrymore's guilt, but never realy does.
I'd be interested to know if this film went through a lot of re-thinking along the way, because there are many curious missed opportunities, that smell of re-writes and studio interference. That said, as it stands The Bells does entertain, and is worth a look if only to see a youngish Lionel Barrymore and Karloff.
Transferred from a restored, tinted 35mm nitrate print, The Bells looks pretty good, and has pleasing musical accompaniment. For no apparent reason Rene Clair's fantasy short, The Crazy Ray is put on this DVD as an extra (why not?)"
For lovers of theatre and silent drama...
volodyovsky | 12/15/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A must for lovers of silent drama and theatre history, this edition of The Bells offers the only surviving film version of the 19th-century play, formerly popularized by the great Henry Irving. (Note: Contrary to the packaging, there is no connection whatever with Poe's poem. The film is based on MM. Erckmann-Chatrian's Le Juif Polonais, translated by Leopold Lewis.) The print is clear, crisp and beautifully tinted, among the best preserved silent films I've ever seen, and the new score works well. Lionel Barrymore is competent and sympathetic as the tavern-keeper Mathias, tormented by the murder of a Jewish merchant. (As a young man Barrymore must have seen Irving's chilling performance, although he probably falls well short of its energy and terror.) The ending is a shocking disappointment, however, since the play's original and gruesome death scene (which made Irving an overnight star) is replaced entirely by an abrupt and sentimental repentance, giving an otherwise macabre human tragedy a fairy-tale ending. (It doesn't work and seems to make all that has gone before it just a bad dream.) That's Hollywood for you. (Imagine Willy Loman turning his life around suddenly in the last 30 seconds of Death of a Salesman-- and handing his wife the car keys, he resolves to lead a virutous life evermore.) The other 60 mins of The Bells, however, are still worth the price of admission."