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In World War I London, Myra is an American out of work chorus girl making ends meet by picking up men on Waterloo Bridge. During a Zeppelin air raid she meets Roy, a naive young American who enlisted in the Canadian army. They fall for each other, and he tricks Myra into visiting his family who live in a country estate outside London, where his step-father is a retired British Major. However Myra is reluctant to continue the relationship with Roy, because she has not told him about her past. Written by
[Mae Clarke in 1985 speaking of working with James Whale] I knew James Whale was imported as one of England's very best and was aware of the great success of the play and film "Journey's End." I wanted to meet Mr. Whale the way I would have entered college to begin learning... Our relationship was the adoration between a teacher (who was expert) and a pupil (who was most willing.) And our objectives became 'What did the author want? What did he not say and assumed we would? We could forget ourselves.' See more »
Although the film is set in 1918 the cast are wearing early-1930s fashions See more »
Heart-stirring performance reveals Mae Clarke to have been an exceptional actress!
This sensational 1931 pre-code classic is the first of three films based on the play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert E. Sherwood, who felt the film had improved on his play. Carl Laemmle, Jr. (charge of production since 1929), son of Carl Laemmle (founder of Universal Pictures), bought the rights to Waterloo Bridge in early 1931 and initially felt none of the director's under contract with Universal could pull off a film adaptation of the play. However, he had seen the little-known film based on a play (by playwright R.C. Sheriff) entitled, Journey's End (1930), which featured a volatile setting and theme of World War I. It was the first film directed by the then relatively unknown James Whale, who had directed the play in New York and London as well. He was hired by Laemmle to direct Waterloo Bridge, however, Whale found himself uncertain about the original screenplay, which he demanded for a new screenwriter. Benn W. Levy and Tom Reed wrote a new screenplay, bringing the story back to a drama film (instead of a war movie). With Universal having serious difficulties financially, Laemmle reportedly gave Whale an insignificant budget of $250,000 and only 26-day's to shoot the film.
Rose Hobart (a Universal contract player) had been originally given the part of Myra Deauville (a chorus girl), but when she discovered that the studio was not renewing her contract, she regrettably refused to do the film. Whale chose then Columbia contract player Mae Clarke to replace Hobart. (Laemmle agreed to cast Clarke from her recent popularity in The Public Enemy.) Her co-star would be Douglass Montgomery (appearing as Kent Douglass) as the roll of Roy Cronin (an American soldier under Royal Canadian Forces). Even though they were filming on a tight schedule, with Montgomery being heavily inexperienced, Whale would take three days out of production just to work with him. The film also features a 23-year old Bette Davis in a small roll as Cronin's sister Janet. It would be Davis' third and final film with Universal before signing a seven-year deal with Warner Bros.
Waterloo Bridge opens with a fantastic shot of a stage show and the individual shots of the chorines are brilliant, with each looking smutty and profane. Afterwards, Myra backstage (singers and dancers making lots of noise in their underwear) saids goodbye to her gig as a chorus girl. (Myra becomes stranded in England after her show closes at the beginning of World War I.) A couple of years past, Myra is on the streets selling her body to the soldiers who spill out from the Waterloo Station. During an air raid in London, Roy meets Myra, and falls in love with her, unaware she is a prostitute. Montgomery's Roy is a handsome blonde but in many ways is clueless. He's certainly a likable heartfelt young man who is much too dull to identify a prostitute when he sees one. Clarke plays Myra as a intelligent woman, but frightened, secretly unhappy, and susceptible to outbursts. Really, Clarke amazingly complies Myra's conflicted emotions and impulses in a courageous portrayal of a woman horribly suffering. She believes herself to be nothing but trash and she's wrong - just as Roy's mother Mrs. Mary Cronin Wetherby (Enid Bennett) believes herself to be a fine woman.
Whale's direction was truly incredible, as he added a delicate mixture of realism and impressionism, but what makes Waterloo Bridge is Clarke's astonishing performance and the very real chemistry between her and co-star Montgomery (Whale stages the dialogue with great sophistication and slyness). Clarke will always be remembered as the wife (Elizabeth) of Dr. Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 Frankenstein (also directed by Whale) and for the girl that received half a grapefruit in the face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931). However, in Waterloo Bridge, she proves to be more than just that, as she gives a striking performance that even two-time Academy Award winner Vivien Leigh herself couldn't come close to matching in the restrained 1940 remake. Of course, she was never a staple name like Leigh, however, she is simply a pleasure to watch as the main character
without question the finest performance of her unfortunate career.
James Whale's 1931 Waterloo Bridge is vastly superior to the 1940 remake, as well as, the 1956 remake Gaby.
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