The Brotherhood of the Bell
‘It just occurred to me that I’m part of the establishment now’
‘Not part – The establishment.’
A few weeks ago I was a guest on the excellent podcast Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio with Miguel Conner (which can be heard via this link here), and when asked about my favourite ‘Masonic’ style film, I mentioned about a film I saw in the 1970s about a professional guy, based in the US, who had everything; great job, beautiful wife, lived in a nice part of town, a professional career, but then lost it all due to refusing to do something his superior in the society had asked him to do, finding out that all he had gained was not because of his personal skills and hard work, but because he was a member of a sinister secret society. He lost everything because of his beliefs, including the beautiful wife and the glitteringly successful career. I had completely forgotten the name of the film, and though not Masonic at all – it resembled more of a University Fraternal Society – it related directly to people’s suspicions of secret societies in general. I had searched for this film for years, but after the podcast had aired, one of the listeners finally informed me of the film’s title, ending years of YouTube searches.
The Brotherhood of the Bell is certainly one of those great existential films from the period; released in 1970 and starring Glen Ford as the main character, Professor Patterson, who realises that the secret society he joined as an undergraduate is in reality, a sinister business and banking cabal of a wealthy elite who gained their power from various acts of skulduggery. In essence, for the first time in his life he questions his position in life and is exposed to the ugly truth that he is a mere pawn of the society he joined, and everything he ever gained in life was down to the Brotherhood of the Bell.
The film opens with an initiation ceremony, with the members of the Brotherhood positioned around a bell. The new initiate is told, before he gives his oath, that his dues – in the form of a favour to the Brotherhood – will be asked of him in the future. After the ceremony, Ford’s character Professor Patterson is asked for his ‘dues’ to be paid in the form of a task. The task he is given to do was to basically blackmail an academic to refuse a position, a position the Brotherhood wanted for one of their own members. The academic in question had defected to the US, and Patterson had been given a dossier that would expose the people who helped the academic to defect, putting their lives at risk in their home country, if the academic would not comply with the Brotherhood’s demands. The academic then committed suicide, leading to Patterson feeling remorse and confiding in his wife and father-in-law, discussing his thoughts on exposing the Brotherhood. However, unbeknownst to Patterson, his wife and father-in-law are also working for the Brotherhood.
He subsequently gave the dossier to a member of the law enforcement, who was also working for the Brotherhood, who takes the evidence, leaving Patterson with no proof of the Brotherhood’s wrongdoing. His wife then leaves him and he loses his position. It is revealed that his father’s position as a CEO of a successful company has also been engineered by the Brotherhood, and his father becomes the focus of an investigation for fraud, and subsequently dies of a stroke after confronting his son’s father-in-law. Patterson ends up with nothing except his want to expose the Brotherhood. He ends up on a TV show trying to expose the society, and is humiliated by the host and after getting aggressive, he ends up in jail. At the end of the film, Patterson is bailed out by his old boss who finally believes him, and advises him to find a ‘whistleblower’ from the Brotherhood, someone who has nothing to lose. This turns out to be the initiate from the beginning of the story, bringing the film full circle.
The film can certainly be seen as an examination of the popular myths of secret societies; that the members of these shadowy secretive societies or cabals are the elite who control the decision making and have the power over governments and big business. In the film, the icy hand of the Brotherhood certainly stretched far, controlling all aspects of the main character’s life, and every aspect of his life was engineered to control him, in the end creating an atmosphere of paranoia and isolation. These themes were revisited in many other films of this genre, more recently with Eyes Wide Shut, and show us how some may have a desire to join these societies for materialistic reasons, but there is also a price to be paid for that materialistic desire. The film is a hidden gem and also has a great soundtrack, being composed by Jerry Goldsmith who also composed the scores for The Mephisto Waltz and The Omen.