The Bells

Surprisingly many films have been based on the 1867 play Le juif polonais by Alexandre Chatrian & Emile Erckmann (aka 'Erckmann-Chatrian'). It was first, with that title, made into an 1869 opera by Camille Erlanger with a libretto by Henri Cain. It was then translated in 1871 as a play with the title The Bells by Leopold Lewis. As such it was a great success for Henry Irving, which probably accounts for its cinematic reinvention.

Australian films

The Bells (W. J. Lincoln, 1911) scenario by W. J. Lincoln from the play by Leopold Lewis from Erckmann-Chatrian's Le juif polonais, dp Orrie Perry; 4000 ft; Arthur Styan as Mathias; the film has not survived

The Bells was based on a well established stage melodrama written by Erckmann Chatrian and first performed in London in 1871. The film offered sixty 'Grand Tableaux' in telling the tale, but it was no mere representation of a stage production, for considerable pains were taken to use outdoor locations. The snow scenes were shot on the slopes of Mount Donna Buang in the Victorian ranges, which the film company ascended on horseback under difficult winter conditions. The film offered the first and only screen appearance of Nellie Bramley, a stage actress then in her late teens and already renowned for the sentimental sweetness of her theatrical persona. The Bells opened at Tait's Glaciarium, Melbourne, on 7 October 1911, with a 'descriptive lecture' by J Ennis, who appeared in the drama as Walter, a villager who frequents the inn.
Other film versions of the play abounded: in the USA in 1918, in England in 1923 and 1931, in Belgium in 1925, and again in Australia in 1935, the last under the title of The Burgomeister. Pike & Cooper: 25.

The Burgomeister (Harry Southwell, 1935) aka Hypnotised, Flames of Conscience, from the play by Leopold Lewis from Le juif polonais; Harry Southwell as Mathias; survives only in part

The old stage melodrama The Bells was first filmed in Australia in 1911 by W J Lincoln. In 1925, while in Belgium, Harry Southwell filmed another version under the title of the original Erckmann-Chatrian play, Le Juif Polonais, and back in Australia in 1935 he again turned to the play for a new film venture. ... Later, a re-edited version with the title Hypnotised was distributed by Scott Films, and it may have been screened in some country centres. In 1937 the film appeared in England under yet another title, Flames of Conscience.
In his somewhat bitter survey of the Australian film industry, Let's Make a Movie (Sydney 1945), Rupert Kathner told the sad tale of The Burgomeister's preview: after the screening 'there was an unearthly silence. Lady So and So turned to Sir Whatsisname, who nudged the eminent KC, who, after swallowing hard, silently thanked his lucky stars that he only had a few hundreds invested in it and not thousands like a lot of others who were seated about him'. Pike & Cooper: 171.

Films from elsewhere

The Bells (Ernest C. Warde, 1918) Frank Keenan as Mathias

Le juif polonais (Harry Southwell, 1925)

The Bells (James Young, 1926) Lionel Barrymore as Mathias

The Bells (Harcourt Templeman, Oscar Friedrich Werndorff, 1931) Donald Calthrop as Mathias

The Polish Jew (Jean Kemm, 1931) Harry Baur as Mathias


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