THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL (1970)
Article 2909 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2009
Posting Date: 7-31-2009
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Featuring Glenn Ford, Rosemary Forsyth, Dean Jagger
A professor who is a member of a secret society is given an assignment to prevent a colleague from accepting an offered position. When the professor is forced to use blackmail to accomplish this, the colleague commits suicide. Devastated by guilt, the professor vows to bring the society out in the open and reveal the conspiracy.
It occurred to me about halfway through in watching this movie that a conspiracy movie like this must seem deceptively simple to write; once you’ve established the power of the secret society, you can just ride the waves of building paranoia that come in the wake of not knowing who you can trust. The problem comes in coming up with an ending that a) works within the ground rules you’ve set down about the reach and power of the society, b) is not obvious (such as, having the conspiracy win) and c) and is satisfying; basically, once you’ve got the paranoia ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. Therefore, I’m not surprised that the ending of this movie is a disappointment; given all that went before, it’s just rather lame. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, up to that point, this is one very effective TV-Movie. This is due to the excellence of the cast (with Glenn Ford doing a fantastic job as the professor, as well as particularly memorable turns from Will Geer and William Conrad) and the fact that the script refuses to just blithely ride the paranoia wave, as some of the events that happen show real creativity and a certain degree of ambiguity. It’s one of those TV-Movies that doesn’t feel like one; nor does it feel like a failed pilot for a potential series. The talk show sequence of this movie was apparently based on “The Joe Pyne Show”, though it made me think of the type of talk show represented by Jerry Springer. I’m not entirely sure about the fantastic content here, though the idea of a secret society controlling the power and money of the world certainly verges on both science fiction and horror territory.