Professor Andrew Patterson (Glenn Ford) arrives at the mansion house of wealthy businessman Chad Harmon (Dean Jagger), and is welcomed inside. Patterson comments on the cold, but they have other things to concern them, such as the induction of a new member into their secret society. That society is known - to a select few - as The Brotherhood of the Bell and has a guiding hand in the highest echelons of power; Patterson has been a member for over two decades. But what happens when the Brotherhood wants him to do something against his ethics?
Scripted by producer David Karp, this TV movie has stayed with a number of viewers who have caught it over the years, though whether that's down to its intelligence or its paranoia isn't clear. Some would have you believe the conspiracy depicted here is closer to the truth than many would like to admit, leading to a cult around the film that like to think it was telling truths about the way that governments are really run. The fictional Brotherhood have been equated with the real life Skull and Bones society which a good few of the most powerful men in America have been part of over the decades.
Although Karp's screenplay falls back on repeating the same note over and over again, that being Patterson knows he's at the heart of a conspiracy yet no one outside of it will accept this, Ford carries the drama, striking just the right note of earnestness. What Patterson has been instructed to do is persuade someone at the university he teaches at to turn down an influential post; this man, Dr Horvathy (Eduard Franz) defected from behind the Iron Curtain and if he doesn't agree to the Brotherhood's offer, those who assisted him escape will be exposed in their native country.
Horvathy is so wound up by this that he commits suicide, leading the already guilty-feeling Patterson into believing he is repsonsible for a murder in a way. So he sets out to reveal the Brotherhood to the world by going to the F.B.I., a meeting set up by his father-in-law. But after he has spoken to an agent, he senses something is not right and it turns out the man he discussed events with isn't an F.B.I. agent after all... and so the paranoia is heightened. You can tell there's something scary going on by the off kilter camera angles, incidentally.
There is a provocative message here, and that's that once you start crying conspiracy you end up sharing the stage with some strange bedfellows, and objectionable ones at that. There may indeed be a plot against you, but how can you make people who are not part of it believe you without coming across as if you're mentally unbalanced? In the film's best scene, Patterson goes onto a chat show to discuss his experiences and finds himself shouted down by black power in one corner and white supremacy in the other, with host Brad Harris (William Conrad) deliberately stirring up the crowd and effectively making Patterson look no better than the ranters and ravers. In these days when conspiracy theories are rampant, The Brotherhood of the Bell is oddly current. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.