Posted: 07/21/2006

 

Brotherhood of the Bell

(1970)

by Barry Meyer




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From the days of our country’s founding, and even long before in the old countries, there have been secret societies of men that yield furtive powers that our beyond our comprehension. Whether they bear ominous names like Skull and Bones or the Illuminati, or have less than threatening monikers like the Freemasons, the mere mention of them can foster images of elite cloak wearing members engaging in cult like rituals. Some even theorize that these secret brotherhoods covertly run our corporations and our politics. The ominous subject has made for good fiction most recently with The DaVinci Code, but has never been far from the mind of Hollywood.

The Brotherhood of the Bell is a fictional society (or maybe not so fictional if you look it up on the Internet) based at a major University (much like the Skull and Bones of Yale) with a membership that goes back to our Country’s heritage. For twenty years Andrew Patterson (Glenn Ford in his television debut) has reaped the benefits of his Bell membership—a lifetime tenure at the University, a beautiful young wife (Rosemary Forsyth) from a well-to-do family—with nary a disquieting moment. Then, on the day he delivers a new recruit to his superior Harry Masters (Dr. Zaius, er… Maurice Evans), he is given an assignment. Never had Patterson been called upon before, until now, when he is asked to convince a dear friend and colleague (Eduard Franz) to pass up the important position that he has just been named for—an esteemed academic placement—because it had been designated for a Bell member. It is Patterson’s upsetting task to tell his friend that if he disregards his request, then the ten people listed in a top-secret dossier will be killed. Distressed and disheartened, the old man commits suicide. The news leaves Patterson numb and hostile towards the Bell. He feels responsible and wants the Bell to take responsibility, and launches a campaign to dismantle the secret society. But every where he turns for help he finds the foothold of the Bell, whether it be within his own family to the host of a Moron Downy Jr.-like talk show host (played by William Conrad). Patterson quickly discovers that the good life that he thought he had earned was all provided for him by the Brotherhood of the Bell—and they could just as easily take it all away.

The late 60s and 70s were hard times for the aging leading men and ladies of the heydays of Hollywood movies, so for talented actors like Glenn Ford, TV became an undecidedly safe haven for work. There’s no doubt that celebs like Ford and Bette Davis would prefer the big screen fame they once prized, but for many of these veterans, the small screen was a place where they could remain in the spotlight. And often times shine even brighter. With a tour de force performance by Glenn Ford, a taught script by David Karp, and solid directing from Mephisto Waltz director Paul Wendkos, you’d be hard pressed to find a better TV Movie of the Week than The Brotherhood of the Bell.

Barry Meyer is a film critic living in New Jersey.



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