The Favourite Sister: Jean Simmons as Barbara Leslie in Until they Sail

Annex - Simmons, Jean (Until They Sail)_02
During the whole month of August, TCM has a special event called “Summer Under the Stars”: one day, one star. Movies starring this star are broadcast on the channel from the morning until the night. Unfortunately, I don’t have TCM on my television… but that doesn’t prevent me to participate to the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Kristen from the inspirational blog Journeys in Classic Film. For this blogathon, each participant chooses a topic related to one star on the schedule. Today, on August 30, TCM is honouring Jean Simmons’s career. As she is an actress I absolutely adore, I had to choose her as a topic for my entry. I will more precisely talk about her performance and her character in the underrated 1957’s Until they Sail.
Promotional banner for Jean Simmons day on TCM
Until they Sail isn’t Robert Wise’s most well-known film, but it remains a secret hidden gem and proves, once again, his versatility as a movie director. I mean, the man could direct every type of movies: science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still), noirs (Born to Kill), dramas (Until they sail), musicals (West Side Story, The Sound of Music), horror (The Haunting), etc. I believe, he and Michael Curtiz were among the most versatile movie directors in Hollywood.
But let’s get back to our main movie. Until they Sail certainly has a stellar cast, not only including Jean Simmons, but also Joan Fontaine (Jean and Joan in the same film: that’s just idealistic for me!), Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Sandra Dee (in her first feature), Charles Drake and Wally Cassell.
All the actors are brilliant, but today, we’ll focus on the angelic Jean Simmons.
Until They Sail takes place in Christchurch, New-Zealand during the World War II. The men from the town have left to go fight on the front. Barbara Leslie Forbes (Jean Simmons) and her sisters Anne (Joan Fontaine), Delia (Piper Laurie) and Evelyn (Sandra Dee) are on their own having previously lost their parents and having a brother, Kit, left with the army. The city is now a women’s one and seems quite empty with this absence of male figures. But the Leslie sisters manage as best they can to continue their life normally. However, Delia, who has just been married and is unhappy with it, moves to Wellington to work in the navy. The fear of the war is always felt in the sisters’ hearts, especially when they are thinking about what may happen to their relative, especially to Kit and Barbara’s husband, Mark. This lack of men doesn’t last long when American marines arrive to Christchurch. Anne will meet Capt. Richard Bates (Charles Drake) and will fall in love with him, and Barbara will make the acquaintance of Capt. Jack Harding (Paul Newman) during a visit to her sister in Wellington. They’ll soon realise that love in wartime is not an easy thing to manage.
Until they Sail was based on a story by James A. Michener and written by Robert Anderson. The movie is not known as the most famous one for any of the actors and unfortunately wasn’t a commercial success on its release. However, it can be considered a worthy one and deserves more recognition. Any fan of Simmons/Fontaine/Dee/Laurie or Newman has to make sure not to miss it. It’s a movie that makes you think. For once, it shows you how the civilians, mostly women, used to live during the war. We never see the men on the front. If we see soldiers, it will always be on the civilian side where there’s no battle. The battle that is presented to us here, is the temptation by the women not to feel too lonely and try to live as normally as possible.
Jean Simmons and Joan Fontaine are the two main reasons why I first watched this film. They are two actresses I simply adore. So, the idea of seeing them in the same film was nothing but very appealing to me. And I was not disappointed! I also love Paul Newman, and it allowed me to discover the forever sweet Sandra Dee and Pipe Laurie, who also turns out to be a fine actress (more often remember for the role of the crazy mother in Brian de Palma’s Carrie).
Joan Fontaine and Jean Simmons playing with young Sandra Dee on the set of the film
In the movie, it’s Jean Simmons who has the leading role. The film is mainly focused on her and the story is seen through her eyes. All the four sisters have an interesting personality: Anne is the serious one, Evelyn is the sweet and innocent one, Delia is the rebellious one and Barbara is the wise one.
A sweet picture of the four sisters
Barbara is the first sister to be introduced to us. What we first hear are her thoughts. Jean Simmons’s voice is one I could recognize everywhere. It’s clear, melodious and well articulated. She certainly had one of the loveliest voices in Hollywood. Actually, her voice makes me think of Audrey Hepburn’s one. We can notice something quite special during the film about this voice: even when Barbara is emotive, she manages to speak as clearly as possible. I honestly think Jean Simmons would have made an awesome diction teacher!
Barbara is a real friend for her sisters. She is compassionate and probably is the one who thinks the more about her sisters. She tries to understand their problems and help them the best she can by giving them wise advice. She comforts them, share her goodwill with them and sometimes tries too hard to understand what is impossible to understand.
Even if she’s not the older sister (Anne is), it’s easy to say that she kind of play the role of the strong mother.
The problem is, Barbara doesn’t think enough about herself. She has too much to handle concerning her sisters and neglect herself. Of course, she can count on them too, but her fear of losing her strength insists her to stay aside. She worries about everybody, her sisters, the faith of the men who are at war and forget to be happy. Concerning that, the real inspiration would be Evelyn who, despite the fact of being conscious of the events, still manages to enjoy herself in the moroseness of Christchurch.
Barbara doesn’t easily get angry, but when she does, the main reason is “the war”. She is angry because of the war (which is totally understandable). She’s also an honest person, but will never tell the truth to someone in a way to hurt them. She is too kind for that. She’s calm, but she can explode. Is she resisting too much? In a memorable scene, she gives a passionate kiss to Capt. Jack Harding. This moment is intense and it looks like Barbara is releasing herself from something. Maybe she’s looking for someone she can count on to forget her loneliness. In a previous scene, she looks at her sister Anne and Capt. Richard Bate kissing each other. Her melancholic look makes us guess she’d like to have someone for her too, and that she’s probably missing her husband who is on the front. We certainly feel sorry for her.
Barbara often looks serious, sad and lost in her thoughts. We guess she’s suffering from a high feeling of loneliness. She often has this melancholic look in her face and we wonder what she’s thinking about. However, she can be happy too, and that’s how Jean Simmons shows us her facility of moving from one emotion to another. She can move from sadness to joy in no time. Those moments of joy allow us to admire Jean Simmons’s smile who is one of the most glorious smiles ever.
Jean Simmons is an actress who never needed to overact to make us understand what her character is feeling and to reach us. She’s an actress who can express a lot of things only with her gaze and subtle facial expressions. There’s this moment  [spoiler] when her character Babara announces the death of brother Kit to her sister Delia. [end of spoiler] Here, she simply breaks our heart, but she doesn’t have to do much for it. It’s just the way her eyes are looking at Delia and the way she chooses to speak. This is not that much felt in the tone of her voice, but more in the rhythm of her talk. The way she simply says “Delia, Kit’s dead” is enough to make us understand the feeling of sadness that is omnipresent in the house.
She’ll also make us have tears in her eyes in this scene when she [spoiler] receives a telegram announcing the death of her husband Mark. She doesn’t even look at the letter, but simply goes away quietly in her bedroom while her sisters are looking at her and feeling sorry for her. Then, one she is alone, she bursts into tears. We don’t see Jean’s face at this moment, but only hear her cries and that’s enough for us to understand her suffering. [End of spoiler]
Jean Simmons certainly was a very natural actress and also managed to make a great teamwork with every actor of the cast. We are looking forward to the moments with her and Paul Newman as they are those where Barbara kind of expresses her true side, the weaknesses she tries to hide to her sisters so they’ll see her as a strong person. Those moments between the two actors are not exactly love scenes like the ones we see in typical classic Hollywood films. There’s something kind of “modern” and more realistic about them. It’s not a Cinderella story. She gets along well with him, but on what level?
Annex - Simmons, Jean (Until They Sail)_NRFPT_01
Jean and Paul having fun on the set of the film
Jean Simmons is often a synonym of tenderness and this is pretty well expressed in this film by the way she behaves, the way she talks and the words she chooses to express herself. Her tenderness shines through the final moment of the film and her wisdom, in her final lines:
“As they say, to understand is to forgive. Or is it, to understand is not to forgive? I can never remember. “
This simply represents perfectly the nature of Barbara Leslie.
Until they Sail is a film that deserves more recognition. It has a fabulous cast and the story is sad, but beautiful in its own rights. If you haven’t seen it yet, I first invite you to watch the trailer:
I want to thank Kristen for once again having hosted this amazing blogathon! Make sure to take a look at the other entries:
And to those who have the chance to have TCM, consider the luck you have to watch Jean Simmons films all day lol.
See you!
Jean leaving MGM studios where the movie was shot. A true star!

Many thanks from me and Ingrid!


Hey, fellow bloggers! I just want to thank all those who participated to the 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon. Without you, there would have been NO blogathon! I hope you had as much fun as I did by participating.

I also want to thank Annmarie from Classic Movie Hub who helped me promoting this event on Twitter!

If you didn’t have the chance to contribute this year, don’t worry, we will be back next year!

Ingrid is no longer with us anymore, but if she knew such an event existed, she probably would have been honoured. ❤

If you didn’t get a chance to read the all the entries for the Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, don’t forget to do so:

The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon


Stick around as another blogathon will soon be announced (probably at the beginning of next week)!

See you!

Love Has Blue Eyes and the most Beautiful Smile: Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls


On August 29, 2016 (in two days), Ingrid Bergman, the best actress in movie history, would have been 101 years old. Sadly, this date also marks her death anniversary. But, for both reasons, I’ve decided to honour her by hosting The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon. To host is a big entertainment, but the real fun always is to participate.


When came the time to choose a topic for this blogathon, at first, I wasn’t very sure what to pick. Because when I host my own blogathon, I always like to talk about a special or precise subject. Last year, I wrote a tribute to her in honour of what would have been her 100th birthday (celebrations were big last years all around the world), but I couldn’t repeat myself again. Should I write about her and Hitchcock? About her and Cary Grant? About her Oscar winning performances? None of these ideas satisfied me. Then, I thought: why not writing about her first Oscar nomination? Something that proves you that you’ve been acclaimed by the world of cinema. As much as we can sometimes hate the Academy for their decisions, to gain an Oscar nomination is always a big step in the life of a star.


So, Ingrid Bergman’s received her first Oscar nomination for her most touching performances in From Whom the Bell Tolls, a film directed by Sam Wood and written by Dudley Nichols. The film was based on the novel of the same name by the famous American novelist Ernest Hemingway.


Interestingly, this film also was Ingrid’s first colour feature, the first film that allowed us to see the blue of her eyes. Oh, we’ll talk a lot about those beautiful blue eyes! And since the remake of Intermezzo in 1939, it also was her 6th film made in the United States. Remember, Ingrid was born in Sweden and first starred in Swedish and German movies before going to Hollywood. The year before, in 1942, she starred in Casablanca, the film that made her an international star. Even if it’s not her best film (some will disagree with me, but don’t get me wrong: I LOVE this film), it remains, and will always be her most iconic film.

Anyway, Ingrid didn’t win the Oscar this year. No, Jennifer Jones did for her performance in The Song of Bernadette. I can’t say if Ingrid should have won instead of Jones because I haven’t seen The Song of Bernadette. But there this cute thing that happened when Ingrid Bergman congratulated Jennifer Jones on the Oscar Night. Jennifer told her: “Ingrid, you should have won.”, to what she answered, “No, Jennifer, your Bernadette was better than my Maria.”. I think she was very humble, but most of all could recognize other one’s talents and not only hers, which is a great human quality.

Ingrid and Jennifer

But the most important thing is to understand by ourselves how great and professional Ingrid was in From Whom the Bell Tolls, and this without according any importance to the fact that she has won the Oscar or not.


Today I really want to concentrate on Ingrid’s performance because there’s much to say. I have a tendency to talk about the other elements of a film (the music, the script, the cinematography). But this time, those will be put aside so I could use all my energy on our beloved Ingrid unless there is an important connection to do with her and the other film elements. For example, her connection with the other actors is a subject not to neglect, as for the way her face was filmed too, and some of the memorable things her character, Maria, says.

But before going further, lets remind us what For Whom the Bell Tolls is mainly about.

Hemingway’s story takes place in Spain in 1937 during the civil war. The American Robert “Roberto” Jordan  (Gary Cooper) has come to Spain to fight on the Republican side. En Castilla, he has for mission to make a bridge explode, so the enemies, the Nationalists led by the dictator Franco, could continue the road. Jordan makes a union with the local guerrilla fighter who are established in the mountains. At the head of the group, there is Pablo (Akim Tamiroff), a drunk coward, and his strong wife Pilar (Katina Paxinou). Ingrid Bergman’s plays Maria, a young 19-years-old girl, who have been “adopted” by the clan after her parents’ execution by the Falangist during the war. When she sees this tall and handsome American arriving at her “home”, she falls in love with him. and that’s how this film becomes not only a war movie, but also a romantic one.

Annex - Cooper, Gary (For Whom the Bell Tolls)_01


It’s curious how life is made of coincidences. I was thinking about this, and that’s actually a very interesting subject I’ve chosen. Why? Because the last book I read was Jessica Mitford’s autobiography Hons and Rebels in which she told us how this thrilling Mitford girl ran away from her home in England with her cousin Esmond Roomily at the age of 19 (same age as Maria) to go help in the Spanish War (on the Republican side). Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting continuity to what kept me entertain these days.

But let’s get back to our film. On its release in 1943, For Whom the Bell Tolls received one Oscar and was nominated for 8 others. That winning award was for Katina Paxinou for her magisterial performance as Pilar (Best Actress in a Supporting Role). The film also was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Akim Tamiroff), Best Cinematography-color (Ray Rennahan), Best Art Direction – Color (Hans Dreier and Haldane Douglas), Best Editing (Sherman Todd, John F. Link Sr.) and Best Music (Victor Young).

Katina Paxinou and her Oscar
Katina Paxinou and her Oscar

Ironically, the film lost the Best Picture award to Casablanca (the other Ingrid Bergman’s film) that was also nominated that year. Casablanca is more known as a 1942’s film, but it was part of the 1944 ceremony, rewarding 1943’s films. The thing is, it seems it the premiere took place in 1942, but was “officially” released in the whole country in 1943. Well, that’s another story.

On its release, For Whom the Bell Tolls wasn’t only a success at the Oscars, but also at the Box Office.


Now: Ingrid. She has everything to charm us in the role of Maria. Ingrid was about 27-28 years old when she made that film and we remember, she plays the role of a 19 years-old girl. Well, don’t think she wasn’t right for the part. Even if she was tall and had large shoulders and technically didn’t really look like someone of 19, she succeeded to make us believe she was. Acting is about pretending, but watching movies too. She gave the right age to her character, not by the look, but by how she decided to behave.

Another proof that she was the right one for the part: When Hemingway wrote his novel, he had Ingrid in his mind for the role of Maria. Approved by the author himself! Even when Vera Zorina was first cast for the role of Maria, Hemingway kept insisting on having Ingrid Bergman for the role. And she got it. According to Gary Cooper’s daughter, he also was considered by the author for the role of Robert Jordan before the movie was made.

Ingrid was known as a great friend of Hemingway. She called him “papa” and he called her “daughter”. Remember, Ingrid lost her mother when she was just a small child and then her father when she still only was a young kid. Hemingway didn’t only admire her as an actress, but certainly had a certain affection for her.

Ingrid and Hemingway


Ingrid was an actress who LOVED and was passionate by her acting career. She was always giving everything she had to give the best performances. Sometimes, she even saved mediocre movies this way. I read this very interesting thing on IMDB on about how bad she wanted to be part of the film. When Hemingway told her she would have to cut her hair very short for the role, she said, without  any hesitations: “To get that part, I’d cut my head off!” That’s our Ingrid! The way we love her. She kept her promise and gave everything she had for the role, working days and nights on her role and perfecting a scene even when the director was already highly satisfied. She had the true gift of professionalism.

Annex - Bergman, Ingrid (For Whom the Bell Tolls)_NRFPT_02


The effective way in a movie to make us remember a character and his actor is the way this one is introduced to us. There are many types of entrances. In Ingrid’s case, we could qualify her entrance in From Whom the Bell Tolls as “simply adorable”. Just when she enters we know she will portray a character we will like. It’s very simple. Roberto and the other men are outside of the cave and she arrives to give them food to eat. When Maria (Ingrid) arrives, we simply saw her little head coming out of the cave like a little curious animal. She then saw Roberto and it’s, obviously, love at first sight. She’s shy with him, but always smiles when he looks at her. They eventually get acquainted and her love for him grows immensely has the story goes by.

To express the feeling of love, but most of all, the feeling of love felt by a young woman, Ingrid decided to remain very simple. Her Maria is a timid girl, but who can’t help smiling when she is happy. And she has the most wonderful smile. Our heart beats for her and Gary Cooper when they simply say “hello” to each other.


There’s this scene in the film that maybe is the most memorable one. It remains very simple. Maria is about to kiss Roberto, but it’s her first kiss. She has never kissed a man before. Before doing so, she asks him, in a very innocent way: “Where does the nose go?” WHERE DOES THE NOSE GO! I mean, that’s fantastic (in a good way).

Maria’s love for Roberto is so high that she’ll do everything for him. She’ll even be ready to fight on his side or die for him.

The way Ingrid’s expressed the feelings of joy and love could be nothing but honest. The thing is, it’s not only Maria who was in love with Roberto, but also Ingrid who felt in love with Gary Cooper during the shooting. But how could she help it? I mean, everybody would fall in love with this tall and handsome gentleman that Gary Cooper was!

The actor said about Ingrid’s love for him: “In my whole life I’ve never had a woman so much in love with me as Ingrid Bergman was. The day after the picture [For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)] ended, I couldn’t get her on the phone.

Ingrid and Coop on the set of the film. She seems lost in her loving thoughts 😉

The two actors will find each other again for the shooting of Saratoga Trunk (1945).


Ingrid had the gift of being a versatile actress, that’s why she also was able to express sadness and fear in this film with an impressionable tact. As much as she can make our heart beat, she can also break it in pieces. How can we forget this scene when she has to be separated from Roberto? She cries, she’s panicking and desperately shouts “Roberto! Roberto!” During all the film, we witnessed the electrifying passion between Maria and Roberto, so this scene only makes us want to enter in the TV screen and console the little woman. Her emotionalism can also be felt when she talks about her parents’ death.

for whom the bell tolls- paxinou and bergman

To capture those many wonderful acting moments, the camera captured some of Ingrid Bergman’s best close-ups. Those not only make a focus on the way the feelings are simply expressed by the eyes, but also allow us to see how beautiful Ingrid Bergman was. Her white smile is perfectly placed on her round face and her blue eyes simply shine on her tan. Ingrid Bergman could never be ugly, even with a funny haircut like Maria’s one.

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Ingrid not only had a great onscreen chemistry with Gary Cooper, but also with Katina Paxinou (as Pilar). As a matter of fact, the two women and Gary Cooper forms the beautiful trio of the film. Pilar knows what are Roberto and Maria’s feeling for each other and makes sure they have their chance in love. She is quite a woman and, in a way, Maria has inherited from her. She has frankness, but will express it in a more delicate way than Pilar, and she is a courageous woman too. But most of all, she is a sensible one. Pilar is sensible too, but it’s less obvious as she hides many of her feelings under a tough attitude.


After all, one of For Whom the Bell Tolls‘s theme could be “how must a woman survive in a men’s world?” Here we have two different versions. The Pilar one: act like a man, or the Maria’s one: act like a complement of a man. Maria is the one the man needs to have a more sensible heart in those rough war times.


Well, Ingrid’s performance in For Whom the Bell Tolls is nothing, but an honest model of acting for any movie star. It’s not for any superfluous reasons that she won that Oscar nomination. Ingrid Bergman was a strong woman who could literally sacrifice herself for a cause. Here, she chose the wonderful art of movie acting and she did it well. Honestly, I didn’t think I would have that much to say about Ingrid in Sam Wood’s film, but while I was watching it again for this blogathon, I discovered there indeed was much to say about this flawless performance.

From left to right: Ingrid, director Sam Wood, Katina Paxinou and Gary Cooper


We haven’t finished talking about Ingrid because the blogathon still goes on with many other lovely entries! Click on the following link to read them:

The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon

And, of course, a very happy heavenly birthday to the wonderful Ingrid Bergman!