Air Date: Sept. 17, 1970 (CBS)
Production Companies: Cinema Center 100 Productions
Running Time: 100 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: David Karp
Directed by: Paul Wendkos
Cast: Glenn Ford, Rosemary Forsyth, Dean Jagger, Maurice Evans, Will Geer, Eduard Franz, William Conrad, Robert Pine, William Smithers, Dabney Coleman
The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) is the closest thing to a prestige picture one might find at the beginning of the 1970s TV horror movie boom:
Directed by Paul Wendkos, who was nominated by the Director’s Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television.
Music composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who won multiple Emmy awards during his career and was nominated multiple times for Oscar awards (winning only once for The Omen.)
Starring respected actors Glenn Ford, Rosemary Forsyth, Dean Jagger, Maurice Evans, Will Geer, and William Conrad.
Of course, it’s not really a horror film. Instead, it’s a suspense thriller in which the secret society that Professor Andrew Patterson (Ford) joined in college comes collecting its dues years later... with fatal consequences. As he fights back, Patterson discovers a worldwide conspiracy that will stop at nothing to prevent its existence from being known.
For me, part of the joy in watching The Brotherhood of the Bell was that I’ve seen this story what I feel like is many times, yet it’s always from the hot, young college student point of view. I don’t recall one that takes place years later and has such long-lasting consequences for the main character, a grown professional.
The biggest impact it had on me is the idea that Patterson didn’t earn anything for himself in his life - not his career, not his success, not even his lovely wife, Vivian (Rosemary Forsyth.) The Brotherhood orchestrated everything for him. In a larger sense, the entire concept of free will has been stripped from him, and that’s not easy to believe… or accept.
Naturally, Patterson wants to blow the whistle. If he doesn’t quite understand the ramifications, why wouldn’t he hold press conferences or, in a bizarre and nightmarish sequence, guest star on a sensationalistic talk show with Bart Harris (William Conrad.) By that point, we’re sucked into the nightmare and are immediately suspicious of anyone and everyone’s involvement.
He reaches a point of no return where he couldn’t shut himself down if he wanted to. His solution is a good one, and it leads to a probable happy ending. However, I thought of the solution much earlier and would have come to it from a slightly different angle. That would have been too routine, denying Ford his big dramatic speech at the end.
Although it’s a familiar story 50 years later, it’s somewhat comforting to know that the same paranoia and conspiracy theories that undermine our world today have been around since at least 1970 (and much longer than that.) Fear of what we can’t control is primal, and the helpless feeling Brotherhood of the Bell depicts rings particularly true right now.