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Warner Home Video presents
Bells Are Ringing (1960)

"Just in time, I found you, just in time..."
- Dean Martin, Judy Holliday (from the song, Just in Time)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: March 16, 2005

Stars: Judy Holliday, Dean Martin
Other Stars: Jean Stapleton, Frank Gorshin, Fred Clark, Eddie Foy, Jr. Bernie West, Gerry Mulligan, Ruth Storey, Dort Clark, Ralph Roberts, Valerie Allen, Hal Linden, Steven Peck
Director: Vincente Minnelli

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:05m:41s
Release Date: March 15, 2005
UPC: 012569591325
Genre: musical comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In most cinematic overviews, Bells Are Ringing often merits just a couple of trivial footnotes as the final collaboration between director Vincente Minnelli and the godfather of classic movie musicals, Arthur Freed, and sadly, the last film of Oscar-winning actress and Broadway legend, Judy Holliday.

Though far from being in the same league as previous triumphs for the main participants (Born Yesterday, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain), an appealing performance by its lead, terrific songs from the teaming of Jules Stein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and a fantastic supporting cast featuring established stars like Dean Martin as well as soon-to-be familiar faces including Jean Stapleton, Frank Gorshin, and even jazz saxophone legend Gerry Mulligan (in a terrific bit part in an ill-fated blind date), it's a musical diamond in the rough that manages to get you on its side despite noticeable flaws.

Bells dials up the story of Ella Peterson (Holliday), a switchboard operator who works for Susanswerphone, a New York-based answering service that originates from the home of its namesake owner (Stapleton). Perhaps making up for the absence of a significant other in her own life, the personable Ella tends to get a little too emotionally involved with the clients, much to Susan's chagrin. But darn if the bubbly blonde doesn't have fun with her gig, toying around with accents and personalities in dealing with the eclectic clientele, including a little boy who won't eat his spinach unless a certain holiday mainstay comes a-calling, a bookie looking for horse-betting tips, and most recently, down-on-his-luck playwright Jeffrey Moss (Martin), who Ella communicates with in the guise of a sweet, consoling, and encouraging soul he's come to affectionately refer to as "Mom."

Filled with concern since the auteur has been concentrating more on the bottle than his typewriter in the wake of a breakup with his collaborator (a veiled Jerry Lewis reference?), Ella opts to emerge from the shadows, though carefully, as one Melisande Scott coming to the rescue. Cured of the dreaded writer's block, Jeffrey becomes enamored with his new found muse, which becomes a double-edged sword for the equally infatuated Ella, who's been carrying a torch for him much longer than he knows. Adding to her emotional dilemma, there's this law that forbids phone service operators from becoming intimately involved with their customers.

So, what's a guilt-ridden, hopelessly single girl to do? Sing and dance, of course!

And that's mostly where the strength of Bells Are Ringing lies. And thank goodness for that, for Minnelli's curiously stilted and at times deadweight direction, combined with too much emphasis on minor subplots (a bookie setup masquerading as a record company, for one) brings the proceedings to a screeching halt. But these failings just melt away thanks to the steady and ever-increasing chemistry between Holliday and Martin. (This is one of Martin's most relaxed and ceaselessly charming performances). Among the many musical highlights are classics like Just in Time and The Party's Over; delightful plot-driven gems It's a Perfect Relationship and the superbly satiric Drop That Name; The Midas Touch, performed by a bare-lipped Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame in his film debut (the New York-reared actor originated the role of Jeffrey Moss on Broadway) and the showstopping rouser I'm Going Back, which, in the span of nearly five flawless minutes, manages to embody all that was the magic of Judy Holliday; a fitting epilogue to a disappointingly brief, but no less amazing career.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As part of Warner's most recent DVD refurbishings of its MGM holdings, I'm not surprised at all by this pleasing transfer. Despite the drab sets and studio backlot feel, every possible ounce of color seeps through, particularly in scenes spotlighting Walter Plunkett's superb costume designs (and honestly, did anybody look cooler in a tux than Dino?). It's not as vividly sharp or detailed as, say, a Lowery Images spit and polish restoration, but given the checkered history Bells has had in laserdisc incarnations (where it was in pan-and-scan), I'm sure fans of this film will be heartened by of its warm, filmlike appearance.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Not only was Metro home to more "stars than there are in the heavens" in its day, the studio was blessed to have some of the most talented and forward-thinking sound engineers on its payroll, which in turn explains why the 5.1 soundtracks on many of Warner's most recent movie musical DVDs sound so exquisite. This presentation follows suit, although it's slightly trebly in the higher end and the wide frontal stereo spread (with screen-specific dialogue placement, which I've always thought of as being super cool), the superb use of the rears helps flesh out room-filling ambience during the musical numbers. Dialogue is is sharp and low end is just about what you would expect from a film of this era.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bells Are Ringing: Just In Time Featurette
  2. Outtake Musical Numbers (Is It A Crime and My Guiding Star)
  3. Alternate Take of The Midas Touch
Extras Review: There are three musical outtakes wisely deleted from the final print, but they don't add up to much: Is It a Crime is a bland tune set to a scene between Ella and Inspector Barnes (played by great character actor Dort Clark, who vintage sit-com fans will fondly recall from similar law enforcement roles on The Monkees); The Midas Touch, which is nothing more than a single angle take of a number whose second, lyric-less half served as background music to support a dialogue-heavy scene between Martin, Gorshin, and Bernie West (the latter of whom is hilarious as a songwriting dentist; West would go on to write for the likes of All in the Family and Three's Company); and a Dino solo on My Guiding Star, which starts off promisingly, but ends before it has much of a chance to make an emotional punch.

Far, far better is Bells Are Ringing: Just in Time, another one of those superb mini-documentaries that I so look forward to on Warner discs like this. Clocking in at just over the 11-minute mark, this engaging retrospective features archival thoughts from lyricists/screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and actors Frank Gorshin and Hal Linden. Linden recalls his former Broadway leading lady with loving fondness supported by great behind-the-scenes stories of a true professional and the most generous actress he ever had the pleasure of working with (not to mention a genius with a reported I.Q. of 172, so sharply at odds with the ditzy image she so expertly portrayed in her Oscar-winning turn in Born Yesterday). Rounding out the bonuses is the film's trailer, which is in presentable condition.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

You don't hear Bells Are Ringing mentioned in the same breath as The Band Wagon, Easter Parade or many of the other classic MGM musicals, mainly due to its storyline, which isn't as well-crafted as its predecessors. Then again, does plot really matter in films such as this? Tough out the lulls, enjoy the Holliday/Martin coupling, and bask in the glow of some timeless standards sprinkled with a couple of hidden gems. Though not perfect, I'm recommending this fine Warner's archival release on strengths that far outweigh the negatives.


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