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William K. Howard
On the eve of World War II, a British officer revisits Waterloo Bridge and recalls the young man he was at the beginning of World War I and the young ballerina he met just before he left for the front. Myra stayed with him past curfew and is thrown out of the corps de ballet. She survives on the streets of London, falling even lower after she hears her true love has been killed in action. But he wasn't killed. Those terrible years were nothing more than a bad dream is Myra's hope after Roy finds her and takes her to his family's country estate. Written by
Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This film is one of a tiny handful which, despite repeated viewings, I would award a vote of ten out of ten. Not because it's a great cultural classic studied in hushed tones by post-graduate students (for all I know this may be so, but I've never heard of it), but because it succeeds entirely and seamlessly in what it sets out to do.
'Waterloo Bridge' is one of those rare films that never seems to strike a false note or put a foot wrong. There is not a wasted moment in the screenplay -- every shot has meaning, every scene plays its part -- and the dialogue gains its power through the lightest of touches. The single scene that brings me to tears every time is that brief, banal interview in the café, with the dreadful unknowing irony of every word Lady Margaret says.
Yet for an avowed tear-jerker, and one that centres around wartime separation and hardship, in an era where unemployment could mean literal starvation, the film contains perhaps more scenes of unalloyed happiness than any modern-day romance. The script is understated, sparkling with laughter and even at its darkest salted with black jest, while no-one can doubt the central couple's joy in each other. They themselves acknowledge, and repeatedly, the sheer implausibility of their romance: but war changes all the rules, makes people -- as Roy says -- more intensely alive. (The actor David Niven, for one, married an adored wife in wartime within days of their first meeting.)
As Myra Lester, Vivien Leigh has seldom given a more lovely or accomplished performance. There is a world of difference between her depiction of the sweet-faced innocent who is mistaken for a school-girl at the start of the film and the sullen, worn creature who saunters through Waterloo Station... and then is miraculously reborn. Myra's face is an open book, and Leigh shows us every shade of feeling. In a reversal of expectations, she is the practical, hesitant one, while Roy, older, is the impetuous dreamer; a role in which Robert Taylor is both endearing and truly convincing. I find few cinematic romances believable, but for me this lightning courtship rings utterly true in every glance or smile that passes between them, from the moment they catch sight of each other for the second time.
Virginia Field also shines as Myra's friend, the hardbitten ex-chorus-girl Kitty, while C.Aubrey Smith provides sly humour as an unexpectedly supportive Colonel-in-Chief and Lucille Watson is both stately and sympathetic as Lady Margaret. But this is really Vivien Leigh's film, with Taylor's more than able aid, and she is transcendent.
'Waterloo Bridge' has a touch of everything: laughter, tears, tension, misunderstanding, sweetness, beauty and fate. It couldn't be made in today's Hollywood without acquiring an unbearable dose of schmaltz; in the era of 'Pretty Woman' it probably couldn't be made at all. But of its kind it is perfect. The only caveat I'd make, under the circumstances a minor one, is that -- as again in 'Quentin Durward' fifteen years later -- Robert Taylor's lone American accent in the role of a supposed Scot is from time to time obtrusive.
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