Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A bell for Adano

A very different approach to the behaviour by military representatives of one power in relation to the civilian population of a conquered people is the subject of A Bell for Adano which involves the American appointed commander of a small Italian seaside town and port at the foot of Italy as the allies commenced their assault and the German machine had turned on its former allies and brotherly fascists. The position of the American officer is no different from that of the German counterpart in the Secret of Santa Vittoria in which the newly appointed German town commander of a previously allied Italian town is at heart an honourable, responsible and cultured man ordered by his superiors to undertake an assignment. In the Secret of Santa Vittoria the assignment is to secure and remove the town’s stock of wine for the Cinzano company while in the Bell for Adano, the order is given that the town has to use side roads and not the main road which has to be kept free for the transport of men and supplies to the front line.

Gene Tierney stars in this 1945 released film based on the book by John Hersey. The town presently comprises the women folk with the men held by the German army until released by the advancing allies and a few old men including the former fascist Mayor who has gone into hiding in the hills and the police man and other local officials all now anxious to show their pro allies allegiance and helpfulness. Their only ask is for a bell to replace that which hung over the town hall for 700 years and taken at the start of the war to be melted down for ammunitions.

In a for once rational action twist for the USA army, the officer in charge is American born but Italian speaking and of Italian family background. His main concern is to get the town functioning again as a pre fascist and post war democracy and this includes restarting the fishing fleet, getting a replacement bell and disobeying an unworkable general order preventing citizens using their carts or moving live stock along the main road. In this instance the main road uses the only bridge passing in and out of the town and which the local supplier of water brings in the daily need together with the transport of essential food and other basic supplies. Although the town is also a port and used and controlled by the Navy their role does not extend outside the port where they live in a civilised and hospitable way.

When the army Major explains his problem about the fishing fleet the Naval officer is willing to set aside the current order and fix it and the local fishing fleet leader is amazed when the Army officer does not require his cut of the catch as had been the situation under the fascists. It is also the Naval officer who arranges for a bell to be found, delivered and re hung for the town. The army officer has also endeared himself to the townswomen after he insists that the policeman joins the rest of the queue for bread as everyone else and does not got to the head of the line because of his official position.

The problem is that the army commander up the line refuses to listen to reasons why the order about the main road cannot be obeyed and who laughs at the notion that they go looking for a spare bell in the middle fo a war. The senior Military police officer, in not quite the same role as the Nazi Gestapo in Santa Vittoria, insists that a communication is sent up the line noting that the officer is not applying the order and ignoring the advice of the Military police that he should obey. The Major’s staff man sees to it that this communication is stuck at the bottom of the paper work tray until one day the Military Policeman sees the unattended pile of paper and deals with it, including the report about the disobedience.

Meanwhile in addition to securing the Bell, the release of the fishing fleet, abolishing corruption and rejecting the offer of the comforts offered by local women(he is married with a family) he finds out the whereabouts of the men folk and arranges for their release home. One of his admirers who initiated this action learns that her husband/ boyfriend did not survive an act of anti fascist heroism. To show their appreciation the townsfolk have arranged for a portrait of the Major to be hung in the space left in the main hall and his office where previously hung one of Mussolini. He attends the fiesta where he is guest of honour keeping from them the news that he has been releaved of his position because of the disobedience and he departs the following morning on his own. This contrasts with the departure of the German commander and his men in the Saint Vittoria when the whole town turns out to see them off before commencing their fiesta to celebrate the saving of their wine store.

The film is based on the real life experience of Frank Toscani who was appointed the military governor of the Sicilian town of Licato after the successful allied invasion. It is enjoyable in contrast to the Unthinkable.

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