Bells Are Ringing was the last musical produced by Arthur Freed. With Vincente Minnelli on board as director, he couldn’t have picked a more perfect project to say goodbye to the genre with. The story finds Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday) as a switchboard operator who cares so much for the people she helps get out of jams that she doesn’t care for herself. She’s in love with the man at “Plaza-O-Double-Four-Double-Three,” writer Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), who thinks she’s an old woman. When they finally meet in person, they do fall in love, but she can’t reveal the truth and gives him a third identity.
Since the Betty Comden-Adolph Green show relies on some outdated technology, the stage version has fallen into the forgotten corners of Broadway history. It was a smash hit at the time, but aside from a failed 2001 revival, it’s never been successfully staged again. It’s a shame, because the movie makes clear that the outdated phone technology isn’t enough to get in the way of what’s a very funny show packed to the brim with standards. If Pillow Talk can overcome its outdated phone plot (the party line), so can Bells Are Ringing. Plus, Judy Holliday gives a charming and unforgettable performance in what was sadly her last film.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray special features duplicate the DVD. In addition to a brief featurette on the making of the film called Bells Are Ringing: Just In Time, there’s two completed deleted songs (“Is It A Crime?” and “My Guiding Star”) and an alternate take of “The Midas Touch.” The theatrical trailer is also included.
Although Holliday might best be remembered for her Oscar-winning performance in Born Yesterday, I wish Bells Are Ringing was considered her signature performance. Considering she played the role on the stage, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing it.
As for the film itself, Bells Are Ringing feels like the last musical belonging to the era of fun two-hour romps with the classic stars we loved. From now on, musicals would become three-hour, bloated affairs exclusively based on Broadway shows and reeking with pretense. The humor of Comden and Green no longer had a place in the movie musical, which was a shame. Bells Are Ringing is full of the same wide-eyed magic and humor that the best Arthur Freed musicals have. The party might be over, but there’s always time to discover this gem of a movie.
Thanks to Warner Archive for providing the disc to review!