Above: Best Actress winner, Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette) and Best Supporting Actress winner, Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bell Tolls).
Ernest Hemingway’s 1939 novel was the source material for Sam Wood’s 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls. The film, which received 9 Academy award nominations, tells the story of Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) an American teacher of Spanish who finds himself fighting Fransico Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Robert (or “Ingles”, as he is affectionately dubbed by his new comrades) teams up with a ragtag band of guerillas including Maria (Ingrid Bergman), Pilar (Katina Paxinou), and Pablo (Akim Tamaroff), whose sole purpose is to blow up a bridge behind enemy lines. Soon Robert and Maria form an unbreakable bond- he as the stoic, hardnosed American and she as the damaged, Spanish rape victim who vows revenge for the atrocities committed both on her and her family. The film’s initial focus is that of masculine adventurism- featuring Robert’s one and only goal of blowing up a bridge on a strategic mountain pass. However, once Robert encounters Maria, the film takes a decidedly different approach and never really recovers from it’s sappy romanticism. Still the film is bolstered by amazing performances and it’s hard not to root for this small band of freedom fighters.
For Whom the Bell Tolls was one of the few films in Oscar history to have four of it’s actors receive Academy Award nominations in each of the four main acting categories. This was Gary Cooper’s 4th nomination for Best Actor and both Akim Tamiroff and Ingrid Bergman each received their first nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Interestingly, this film brought Bergman her first Academy Award nomination instead of her work as Ilsa Lund in the Best Picture winner, Casablanca, the very same year. The film’s sole win came in the form of Greek actress Katina Paxinou, winner, (173), for her role as the fiery, ball-busting Pilar. Paxinou ignited the screen in one scene-stealing moment after another as the hardened Gypsy woman who ascended to the role of leader of the motley gang of guerilla warriors. This was Paxinou’s first American film and she became the first non-American actress to win the Best Supporting Actress Award. Paxinou triumphed over two actresses from The Song of Bernadette (Anne Revere & Gladys Cooper), one from So Proudly We Hail! (Paulette Goddard) and one from Watch on the Rhine (Lucile Watson). Paxinou also became the first Best Supporting Actress to receive the traditional Oscar statue that we know of today for her win- previous winners of this award had all been given a small plaque instead.