Monday, January 13, 2020

The Brotherhood of the Bell

Glenn Ford as Andrew Patterson.
During an induction ceremony into the Brotherhood of the Bell, St. George College student Philip Dunning is told that his secret society brethren will take care of him. They will mentor him, provide useful business contacts, and put him on the path to financial success. In return, he only has to do what the Brotherhood asks of him at a future date.

Andrew Patterson, a long-time brother who attended Dunning's ceremony, learns that it's his time to do the Brotherhood's bidding. He receives a letter instructing him to ensure that one of his colleagues at the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization turns down a job offer from another academic institution. If his colleague refuses to comply, Patterson (Glenn Ford) is to threaten to release information about the people who helped the man to defect.

Rosemary Forsyth as
Andrew's confused wife.
Patterson tries to refuse the assignment. But he eventually does threaten to use the letter and learns the next day that his colleague has committed suicide. Racked with guilt, Patterson tries to expose the Brotherhood of the Bell--not realizing how strong a grip the secret society has on every aspect of his life.

Made for television in 1971, The Brotherhood of the Bell is an effective paranoid thriller for most of its 100-minute running time. Much of the credit belongs to Glenn Ford, who creates a believable and sympathetic protagonist.

One wishes, however, that his character--a well-regarded researcher at a Los Angeles think tank--would display more intelligence. When he meets with a "federal agent," he neglects to confirm the man's identification. He also takes on the Brotherhood without first considering the second-order effects on his family. Without documented proof or collaborating witnesses, why would Andrew Patterson think that anyone would believe his preposterous story about an all-powerful secret society?

Based on a novel by David Karp, an earlier version of The Brotherhood of the Bell was produced as a live TV drama on the Studio One anthology series in 1958. It starred Cameron Mitchell, Tom Drake, and Joanne Dru. Although Karp didn't write the Studio One teleplay, he did pen scripts for TV series such as The Untouchables, I Spy, and The Defenders (for which he won an Emmy). For the 1970 telefilm The Brotherhood of the Bell, Karp adapted his own book. He went on to create the Hawkins TV series for James Stewart in 1973.

I'd be curious to know if Karp differed from his novel to add the scene featuring William Conrad as an incendiary TV show host who disparages Patterson. It comes across as a needless scene created just to extend the running time.

Dean Jagger as a baddie.
The Brotherhood of the Bell is an absorbing film that goes on too long and opts for a contrived, unbelievable ending. Those weaknesses are overcome, however, by its original, disturbing premise and strong acting by Ford and Dean Jagger, who exudes quiet menace in a villainous role.

The Skulls (2000) shares many similarities, but limits its plot to a college setting. The much earlier Black Legion (1937), starring Humphrey Bogart, is also about a secret society. It works on a smaller scale, too, with the purpose of the title organization to instill fear in foreign workers.


  1. I like the premise, and I seem to have vague memories of this movie. I don't think I am naturally paranoid, but these things appeal to me plus I always enjoy watching Ford.

    1. Ford's one those guys, like Holden or Lancaster, that I'll watch a movie simply because he's in it.

  2. Thank you! I looked for this movie on Netflix and other streaming services and never found it. I did not know about Karp's novel, either; so that gives me another quest i suppose. The Black Legion, incidentally, was based on an actual Klan like organization.

  3. My most vivid memory of this is Wm Conrad's scene. "Attack Dog" talk hosts were in vogue.Like Joe Pyne.

    To its credit, CBS' movies looked like real movies. Unlike most on NBC, ABC. But all three nets made money selling them overseas. Along with re-edited tv shows.,

    1. Conrad's scene seemed to be added to expand the length. It didn't seem to add anything to the plot; in fact, I thought Ford's character would have been too smart to appear on such a show.

    2. Taking it out of its time frame, you're right. But those kinda shows were current. And seemed to attract those who should've known better.

    3. For me, Wm Conrad's brief performance in this movie is a standout. And rumour has it that a studio exec - on watching his performance - said something like 'we need to get this guy his own TV series'. And that's how Conrad got the gig as 1970s TV detective 'Cannon'

  4. I'm another one who watches a film just because Glenn Ford is in it. Despite any flaws here, I'll definitely watch this because of his presence and Dean Jagger's, who - to me - is another actor in that category.

  5. You always dig up such rarities! This tite isn't familiar to me, but Glenn Ford ( and Dean Jagger ) are always worth watching. I may take a peek at Black Legion first.