Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

“What a perfect relationship: I can’t see him, he can’t see me!”

A benevolent answering service operator (Judy Holliday) tries to help her clients succeed in their careers by passing along information she hears, but her do-gooding efforts are threatened by a detective (Dort Clark) who believes she and her colleagues are running a house of ill repute; meanwhile, she falls in love with a client (Dean Martin) who knows her only as an older woman he calls “Mom”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dean Martin Films
  • Judy Holliday Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Musicals
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Vincente Minnelli Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that Judy Holliday’s final movie — in which she “reprised her Broadway role as a Brooklyn answering-service operator who uses her knowledge of her clients’ difficulties to help them out, without divulging who she is and how she knows their problems”:

— is “overlong and not particularly smooth”; but he argues that “Holliday, even below her peak, is well worth watching”. He notes that “one interesting point is that Holliday’s ‘dumb blonde’ is much more stable than the men in the film — however, her support for them, including Martin, comes more out of her need to be a mother than a friend or lover”.

I’ll admit to finding this Vincente Minnelli-directed musical (with songs by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jules Styne) one of the least compelling Holliday vehicles listed in Peary’s GFTFF; even Holliday’s naturally engaging presence can’t do much to elevate the storyline. The primary problem, as Peary hints, is that Martin and Holliday lack any real romantic tension: their “meet cute” (with Holliday crawling around Martin’s apartment after surreptitiously trying to wake him up for an important appointment) is poorly handled (why does he accept her presence so easily?), and Martin only seems to fall in love with Holliday because of her power as a muse. Meanwhile, the subplot involving thick-headed Clark’s pursuit of Holliday comes across as equally inane. This one is only must-see for diehard fans of Holliday and/or musicals.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Judy Holliday as Ella

Must See?
No, though naturally Hollidays fans will want to check it out at least once.


One thought on “Bells Are Ringing (1960)

  1. Not a must – which kind of hurts me to say since, elsewhere, I have said that any Holliday performance may be considered a must.

    It’s just not that good a film. There are a number of problems here – but Holliday is not among them; the material lets her down (which is even stranger, considering the role was written for her). The musical was a Broadway hit, of course, which doesn’t surprise me – it’s the kind of thing that would charm audiences of its day, overall. But – at least in its translation to film – its faults are glaring.

    Part of the problem rests with how dated the main premise now is. Answering services really did (obviously) mean something to people when they were popular. When I first moved to NYC, they were still used. It hadn’t been that long since Sondheim referred to them in his song ‘Another Hundred People’ from ‘Company’ (“Look, I’ll call you in the morning or my service will explain.”). But, when they were once and for all replaced by answering machines, what they actually meant went with them…completely.

    But, more than that…the script for ‘BAR’ is weak. And, for Comden and Green, it’s not all that funny. And there is a LOT of script. At least in the first half of the film, there is very little music (for a musical!). So things become very uneven here. As well, when Minnelli is working with weaker material, he over-compensates (as many do). So a forced – as well as a very stage-bound – quality emerges. (By the way…the whole sequence about saying hello to strangers on the street…aside from being peculiar, just rings false and pointless.)

    I have no problem with the main relationship between Holliday and Martin – that seems to work fine. But it’s kind of at odds with the story in general. They can’t really breathe as a couple…which is a shame because it’s easy to like them as a couple.

    There are some nice songs and they are served reasonably well: ‘A Perfect Relationship’, ‘Better Than A Dream’, ‘I Met A Girl’, ‘Just In Time’ stand out…as do Holliday’s touching rendition of ‘The Party’s Over’ and her final number ‘I’m Going Back’. But, for a musical, nothing here really blows you away.

    For a star vehicle, Holliday is oddly reined-in – which I’m sure was not the intent.

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