SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.; World/Between World Wars & Spain;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage in War; Romantic Relationships; Rebellion;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Citizenship.

AGE: 12+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1943; 130 minutes; Color. Available from

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM’s guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.


An American volunteer for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) is sent to blow up a strategic bridge. He meets a girl and they fall in love, but before love, there is the matter of the bridge. This is an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel about love and death during the Spanish Civil War.


Selected Awards:

1943 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Paxinou); 1944 Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Tamiroff); Best Supporting Actress (Paxinou); 1943 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Bergman), Best Supporting Actor (Tamiroff), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Color Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Score.


Featured Actors:

Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff, Katina Paxinou, Arturo de Cordova, Vladimir Sokoloff, Mikhail Rasumny, Fortunio Bonanova, Victor Varconi.



Sam Wood.


Hemingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is the defining English language fictional treatment of the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s novel is a triumph of style. While the movie is a reasonable adaptation of the novel, it cannot match the beauty of Hemingway’s prose. Children who are good readers, ages 14 and above, should be encouraged to read the book before seeing the movie.


MODERATE: This is a movie about a brutal Civil War. We see people being beaten to death, shot, stabbed, and forced off of cliffs. Most of the violence does not show damage to the bodies of the victims. The exception is one scene in which the former head of the guerrilla band is repeatedly hit by one of his former subordinates.


Should your child be studying American Literature, it is likely that this book has been assigned as one of Ernest Hemmingway’s best novels. Be sure that your child sees this film only after he or she has read the book. The Helpful Background section will be of benefit whether or not your child is reading the novel. Take care not to ruin the child’s viewing of the film by turning it into an unnecessarily long history lesson.


The novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940 and was a New York Times best-seller. During 1939 – December 1941 there was a vociferous debate in the U.S. about whether the country should shed its isolationist policies and help the Allies (chiefly Britain and Russia) who were fighting the Axis. This book was part of that debate, a voice calling for a more active role by the United States in opposing fascism in Europe.

In 1931, the Spanish monarchy was overthrown and a republican form of government installed. The Republic proposed far-reaching social and economic reforms which alienated the Spanish upper classes. In 1936, a left-wing popular front coalition was elected but a fascist army general, Francisco Franco, began a rebellion. He received equipment, including airplanes and tanks, as well as soldiers and pilots, from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. When Franco was on the verge of destroying the Republic, the Soviet Union began to send aid to the Republican forces to counter the help the Nazis and the Italian Fascists were giving to Franco. The Western democracies remained aloof but individuals volunteered to fight the fascists and formed what was called “The Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) the Germans experimented with many of the techniques that they would use in the Second World War such as carpet bombing of civilian population centers.

More than 600,000 Spaniards died in the Civil War. The country suffered extensive damage. Franco’s rebels won. The Republic was overthrown. A fascist dictatorship was installed that lasted until after Franco’s death in 1975.

The victory of a fascist dictator in the Spanish Civil War was a watershed event in the experience of the generations that lived through the 1930s. It showed, as Albert Camus wrote, “that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own recompense.” The fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War was the precursor of a string of fascist military and diplomatic triumphs, including Munich and the Nazi rape of Czechoslovakia, the Anschluss, and the invasions of Poland, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark, France, Greece, North Africa, and European Russia.

Franco died in 1975 and was succeeded as head of state by Juan Carlos, the son of the king who had been deposed by the Republicans. King Juan Carlos, who still sits on the Spanish throne, shepherded the country to a constitutional monarchy and was instrumental in thwarting an attempted right wing military coup in 1981. Juan Carlos is not only popular in Spain, but he is considered a statesman by the world community.

Guernica was a Spanish city that was destroyed by German aerial bombing. Pablo Picasso, the great Spanish painter, protested the random death of innocent civilians in the powerful painting, “Guernica.” If a print of this painting is available in a book you have at home or in the library, show it to your child.

Palmistry is the art of telling the future by reading the lines on a person’s hand. Palmistry is at least 4,000 years old and is still popular today. In most cities you can see the advertisements of palm readers. Palm reading is a form of “divination” which is the art of telling the future through oracles, omens, or signs. Examples of divination are interpretation of the position of the stars (astrology), measuring or evaluating parts of the body (palmistry, phrenology), interpreting the cries of birds and animals (augury), the investigation of the entrails of dead animals (the Romans used this; it is referred to in Julius Caesar), the interpretation of dreams to tell the future, the reading of cards (tarot), looking through crystal balls and the reading of bones (see Moby Dick). Some form of divination has been practiced in all cultures.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was one of the most influential American novelists of the 20th century. His clear, spare style has influenced innumerable writers. He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953 and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Hemingway was a reporter in WWI and the Spanish Civil War. For Whom the Bell Tolls is based upon his personal experiences. Aging, ill, and depressed, Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. His other works include various collections of short stories, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and To Have and Have Not.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. What did Pilar mean when she said that Maria had the “worst time a woman can have?”


3. Should Roberto have killed Pablo early on? Why didn’t he?


4. Why did the guerrillas call Roberto “Ingles?”



1. Why wouldn’t Pilar tell Roberto what she saw in his hand? What does this have to do with courage?



2. What was the tie between Pilar and Roberto?



3. This is a situation in which the rebellion was getting the upper hand and resulted in the maintenance of a fascist dictatorship for the next four decades. There are other rebellions that went sour, such as the 1917 overthrow of the provisional government (a partially democratic government) in Russia. What does this tell us about the risk of revolution?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)


1. Who was the traitor in this story? What harm did he do?


2. Evaluate each character in the story from the standpoint of the concept of Trustworthiness.



(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)


3. What are the several meanings of the title to this story? What is the full quotation? Where does it come from? Do any of the meanings relate to the concept of citizenship, and if so, how?



For Whom the Bell Tolls is an excellent introduction to Hemingway. If your student or child likes the book, give him or her any of the collections of Hemingway’s short stories, A Farewell to Arms, or The Old Man and the Sea.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • We found the quote from Albert Camus in Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph P. Lasch, 1971, W.W. Norton Company, Inc., New York, page 571.

This Learning Guide was last updated on August 9, 2010.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email