Making the Grades
Bells Are Ringing is all about facades. Susanswerphone presents itself as a professional telephone answering service, sure to solve life's every problem by insuring you receive your important messages in a timely fashion. In reality, the struggling company resides in a shabby section of New York City, where all three employees and the switchboard live as roommates.
The most popular staff member is Ella Peterson (Judy Holiday). A little awkward and shy in person, she's an amazingly smooth operator who can prattle in French when taking reservations for a Parisian-styled restaurant, impersonate Santa for the son of a harried customer trying to get her youngster to eat his spinach, and hand out motherly advice in the voice of an old lady to a confidence-lacking playwright.
Yet the big-hearted blonde can't stop there. Privy to the private details of their clientele's lives, the professional eavesdropper keeps passing little tidbits she has gleaned from one patron to another when she feels they may benefit from the information. For instance, she introduces two of them who share a common interest in Siamese cats (which leads to wedding plans), and she corrects an order for several copies of Beethoven's 10th Symphony when she discovers he only wrote nine.
What Ella calls simple acts of kindness are pronounced as meddling by her boss, Sue (Jean Stapleton). "Just give and take messages... don't be so helpful!" pleads her superior. But when a couple of bumbling policemen accuse the agency of being merely a cover for an illegal "lonely hearts club," the flustered Sue decides to crack down on Ella's liberal application of her job description.
Still feeling morally obligated to share what she knows, the well-meaning busybody is forced to seek other methods. Pretending to be a patient, she tells a closet-composer dentist about a songwriters' convention, dressed like a biker-girl she drops by a bar to convince an aspiring actor to wear a suit to his next audition because she's aware of the casting director's dress-code bias, and claiming to be Miss Melisande Scott she makes a house call to Mr. Jeffery Moss (Dean Martin) to insure the depressed dramatist doesn't miss his last-chance meeting with his producer.
While all of these encounters have life-altering consequences, the greatest impact is on Ella herself. She falls head-over-heels for the Better than a Dream Jeffery, after she rouses him from a reality-escaping hangover. He in turn credits her for resuscitating his career and rescuing him Just in Time. Now she's created a bigger predicament --if she ends the masquerade, will that mean The Party's Over? And how will she explain her romantic entanglement with a client to the plainclothes detective who has been on her tail?
Adapted from a Broadway stage play of the same name, this 1960 musical contains masked innuendo and a few passionate kisses. Sexual content in plain view includes a buttocks-grabbing Cha-Cha partner, a shot of a woman in the shower whose nakedness is obscured by the translucent glass door, and some scantily-clad dancing girls attempting to attract male attention in the production number The Midas Touch. A subplot about a gambling ring introduces a couple of gangsters who make veiled threats.
The greatest veneer families will need to worry about is the film's portrayal of alcohol use. Jeffery is shown drowning his doubts and fears of failure, yet is able to toss the bottle away when a pretty female offers just the right words. A common movie myth, parents will want to point out the falsity of alcoholism being so easily conquered.
What Bells Are Ringing does offer is a light look at good intentions -- sure to solicit mild humor, if not peals of laughter. Fuzzy and feel-good, it's the sort of show that is best taken at face value.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Bells Are Ringing.
In the movies, certain nationalities are often typecast. How does this apply to the character of Otto Prantz (played by Eddie Foy Jr.)? Can you think of other countries that have been stereotyped this way?
The fact that most of us wear a public persona is reinforced through many of the characters in this story -not just Ella. What kind of face does the crowd on the city streets show? How do the rich and famous guests at the fancy party build their image? Why do you think we do this?