The Brotherhood of the Bell is a 1970 made-for-television movie produced by Cinema Center 100 Productions and starring Glenn Ford. The director Paul Wendkos was nominated in 1971 by the Directors Guild of America for "outstanding directorial achievement in television." It should be noted that Paul Wendkos (b. 1925) is still alive in 2008, and went on to direct other intriguing movies, such as The Mephisto Waltz (1971) and episodes of the harmonically named television program, Route 66.
The motion picture has been interpreted as a fictionalized portrayal of a real-life, academic-based secret organization, in general.
But The Brotherhood of the Bell is something more. It allegedly is especially based on the secret society called the Order or Chapter 322, known in the popular jargon as Skull and Bones or Bones, which only exists at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
The film relates how a successful Economics professor, Dr. Andrew Patterson, discovers that an elite fraternity he had joined 22 years before in college is really a callous banking and business cabal that obtains wealth and power for its members through nefarious practices.
Twenty-two years, according to the summary plot noted in Wikipedia, after his initiation into a secret society known as the "Brotherhood of the Bell" or "the Bell," Dr. Andrew (Andy) Patterson (Glenn Ford) is requested to be the "senior" of a new initiate, Phillip Everest Dunning (Robert Pine). The initiation takes place in "the secret chamber of the bell" in the Beta Epsilon Lambda fraternity house of St. George College in San Francisco at sunrise.
Patterson is coldly greeted by the house proctor Weber, who directs him to the library where he meets his "senior" Chad Harmon (Dean Jagger) of San Francisco, a member for forty years. The initiation takes place before a large bell in the center of points of the compass depicted on the floor.
Phillip Dunning had been studying the articles and letters of the brotherhood since midnight. He is then instructed by Harmon to give them to him to be destroyed. He is sworn to secrecy, and he takes his appropriate place at the due east compass point with Harmon at the south point, Patterson at the west point, and Weber at the north point. He is reminded that he will be given an assignment or "due bill" at some indeterminate time in the future, and instructed that he is obliged to carry it out without question. The four men recite the oath of loyalty and secrecy and end by tolling the bell.
As they leave the fraternity house Chad Harmon gives Patterson a business card with an address written on it, telling him to stop by there before he takes the return flight to Los Angeles. In a parting conversation with his new junior Phillip Dunning, he makes the point of telling him that they are not only part of the Establishment but "the Establishment."
Patterson arrives at the address on the business card to find that it is a mansion that is probably unoccupied—the furniture in the parlor he goes to is covered with dust sheets. A tall gray-haired man asks him for the card, and hands him two envelopes. A legal envelope contains the assignment, and a large manila envelope contains materials that assist in carrying out the assignment. Patterson is told to open them one hour after leaving the mansion.
Chad Harmon is then shown in his office being seated for luncheon when Patterson is ushered in. When the two of them are alone, Patterson tells Harmon his assignment: to see to it that a colleague at his institute, Dr. Constantine Horvathy (Eduard Franz), decline a deanship of the College of Linguistics in the eastern United States to which he has been appointed. The materials to assist in that assignment are photostated dossiers (pictures and descriptions) of all the men and women in a Communist nation that helped him to defect to the west. Patterson is instructed to send them to the embassy of that nation if Horvathy refuses to comply.
Since Horvathy is a dear friend of Patterson and his wife, Harmon tries to calm Patterson with advice to make his appeal to Horvathy on a personal level, which might eliminate the need of blackmail. Patterson summarily complies when he returns to Los Angeles by seeing Dr. Horvathy just before an evening scholarly presentation.
Dr. Horvathy does not agree to comply with Patterson's request that he decline the deanship, and demands reasons why he should do so. Patterson hands him the dossiers, and Horvathy is horrified as its release would cause the deaths of many people back in the old country. A terrified Horvathy into hurrying back to his apartment and dies by suicide that evening in his bathtub.
Dr. and Mrs. Vivian Patterson (Rosemary Forsyth) are awakened by police investigating Horvathy's suicide since Patterson was the last person to talk with Horvathy. When the police leave Dr. Patterson tells his wife the real reason Horvathy took his own life. Vivian suggests that Patterson see her father Harry Masters (Maurice Evans) and ask his advice.
Harry Masters and Patterson meet with a Thaddeus Byrnes, whom Masters says is an agent of the "Federal Security Services" (fictitious name for the FBI). They meet in what Byrnes calls a cover office. Byrnes persuades Patterson to surrender the papers he has, which he does. When there is no follow up, Patterson returns to the building, which also houses an ostensible office of the Federal Security Services. An Agent Shepherd (Dabney Coleman) gives Patterson the astounding news that there is no agent Thaddeus Byrnes, and that there is no record of his report to the FSS with information on the Brotherhood of the Bell. Harry Masters when called by Shepherd denies having taken Patterson to see Byrnes, and tells him that Patterson is emotionally disturbed and needs to consult a psychiatrist.
Coincidentally, when Patterson goes again to Harry Master's home he finds him in his study with a psychiatrist. Patterson ends the visit with the statement, "You're a damned liar, Harry!"
Patterson then finds out that his entire branch of economics at his college must be discontinued by the Dean Dr. Jerry Fielder (William Smithers) due to a rash stoppage of grant money. Patterson is then "black-listed" so that he cannot acquire employment elsewhere as a professor. The strain of all of this causes Vivian and him to separate as he realizes that all he has ever had in life for the past 22 years has been given to him because he was a Brother of the Bell.
Patterson holds a press conference in which he discloses the existence of the Brotherhood of the Bell and his assignment from them that brought about Constantine Horvathy's death. It is denied by Chad Harmon, and the local district attorney discounts it on lack of evidence.
His father Mike Patterson (Will Geer), who is a road construction contractor, is also ruined by a sudden audit of Patterson Construction's books. The elder Patterson suffers a stroke in a confrontation with Harry Masters and dies shortly thereafter.
Dr. Patterson has now become a crusader to expose and destroy the Brotherhood of the Bell. He appears on a local television talk show hosted by Bart Harris (William Conrad), who conducts an on-the-air forum of people, who respond to his guests. Since Patterson alleges a conspiracy, two eccentric forum participants claim that they know all about it as something altogether different. Harris humiliates Patterson by telling him that he is part of a lunatic fringe in the United States, which finds conspiracy everywhere. Patterson attacks Harris physically and is led off to jail.
Help comes from an unexpected quarter when his friend Dr. Fielder bails him out of jail and has him stay at his home. He encourages Patterson to find another Brother of the Bell to come forward with him. Patterson can think of no one who would do this but his own junior Phillip Dunning. He flies to San Francisco, and confronts Dunning in his dorm room early in the morning. Feeling he has failed to convince Dunning, he dejectedly returns to the airport. He is shown walking down a deserted corridor of the airport when he hears footsteps of someone running towards him. It is Dunning rushing to meet up with him to go back to Los Angeles and do what Dr. Fielder had suggested.
Speaking of bells....
A successful 1958 movie, Bell, Book, and Candle involves a coven of characters, a Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) who owns a gallery of primitive art, publisher Shep Henderson (James Stewart), Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs), author of a best-selling book, Magic in Mexico, who is researching a book on witches in New York, and his collaborator, Gillian's warlock brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon). Few today realize that speculation about witches, voodoo, and warlocks was so popular in the 1950s.
The legacy of Brotherhood of the Bell continues in the film, The Skulls (2000), which stars Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker, and Leslie Bibb. It is directed by Rob Cohen, the famed director of the new The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). The Skulls plot is based upon some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Yale University's so-called Skull and Bones student society.
The phrase "Brotherhood of the Bell" is also used in the title of a book by Joseph P. Farrell, Ph. D.
Farrell's The SS Brotherhood of the Bell: Nasa's Nazis, JFK, And Majic-12 caused one reviewer to remark that it is filled with an "incoherent pastiche of interlocking conspiracies that populate the chapters. "
Farrell's tease is that the book is about "a mysterious Nazi secret weapons project code-named The Bell [that in 1945] left its underground bunker in lower Silesia, with its project documentation, and the 4-star SS general Hans Kammler. Taken aboard a massive six engine Junkers 390 ultra-long range aircraft, The Bell, Kammler, and all project records disappeared completely, along with the gigantic Junkers 390 carrying them. It has been speculated that it flew to Argentina."
I'll stop there, for now. I'll speak of other "Bells" on another day.