Friday, January 09, 2015


During the American occupation of Italy near the end of WWII, Army major John Hodiak is put in charge of bringing some semblance of order back to the village of Adano. When he and his men arrive, they find mostly women and older people, with many of the younger men in prison camps and others in hiding. Some time is spent getting the trust of the people, and sorting out the Fascist collaborators, but as townsfolk begin trickling in, the most important matter to them is replacing the revered church bell that the Fascists took and melted down for bullets. The people of Adano are slow to take to Hodiak, but when the Army bans horse carts on the roads, an action which hurts the people's livelihoods, Hodiak stands up for them and slowly he and the townspeople build up a mutual respect and even affection. Though he has a wife back home, Hodiak also begins feeling affectionate for blond native Gene Tierney—she dyed her hair blonde in order to feel special. With some help from the Navy, Hodiak manages to get a bell for the church tower, but when the Army finds out that he has subverted their orders, he may not get a chance to see the bell put in place.

This sweet-natured but not sappy film, based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by John Hersey, reminds me of the later film TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON, both involving American military men who gain the trust of an occupied population and get into trouble with their superiors. The film is very low-key—there never seems to be much at stake here, and even the Fascists are treated with humor if not warmth—but the characters are well-drawn and well-acted, and though the ending is nothing if not predictable, I was still happy to stick around and spend some time with these folks. I don't usually like Hodiak, but I got used to him quickly here—it helps that he looks very good with a crew-cut, and that he's not trying too hard as he did in THE HARVEY GIRLS—and he and Tierney (both pictured above) do have a nice intimate chemistry in their tender moments together. Fine support is given by William Bendix as Hodiak's buddy (he gets a good drunk scene near the end), Glenn Langan as a Navy man with a can-do attitude, and Harry Morgan and Marcel Dalio. Not earth-shaking, but a nice movie that has been difficult to see until recently. [TCM]

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