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I've often thought that if Vivien Leigh hadn't had such a rocky and
depressing life (manic depression, lost love in Lawrence Olivier,
miscarriages, tuberculosis) she would have found a place among Bette
Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and the like. She only made 19 films during
her 30 year career, although that includes making legend as Scarlett
O'Hara, and helping usher in a new era of acting by providing a pitch
perfect classical foil as Blanche DuBois to Brando's smoldering and
revolutionary Stanley Kowalski. But her favorite performance was that
of Myra Lester in the tragic film Waterloo Bridge. Watching it it's no
surprise: the film is subtly directed with a powerful story and well
built characters that are an actor's dream to inhabit.
The story revolves around Myra, a ballerina turned prostitute during WWI when she believes her fiancée has died and she is plunged into poverty. The film was perfect fodder for melodrama, but rather it's a taut and realistic and uncompromising film. Direction is not overbearing and lets the film play out delicately except for several bold shots here and there which deeply accent it. Although the melodramas of the 40s are wonderful creatures, this film gained a lot by taking a rare path and going realistic.
Misfortune rules the day and is invited in after a series of near misses and miscalculations, and yet the plot doesn't feel technical or forced. Thanks to the script and performances, it all feels like the ebb and flow of the lives of these characters, pride and honesty and a slightly naive fiancée are the cause of Myra's downfall. And Leigh gives a performance on par with anything she's ever done, if not as epic as Gone With the Wind or wild as Blanche.
Leigh had a special way of handling the screen, of inhabiting her character with a certain distracted quality that made you feel as if she didn't realize there was a camera in the room or that she wasn't in fact the character she was playing. There are few actresses who could make it look as easy as she did, it seems like breathing. She was fierce and fearless, versatile; she could lose all her dignity on screen or be the living embodiment of it, and she possessed the rare quality of immediately communcating any emotion that was as tangible as anything with her face. That said, this is probably her most realistic character and her most tragic, and Leigh makes it profound and gut wrenching by being sophisticated and dignifed, and then at the right moments she takes the fall and gets ugly.
There's a brazen brilliant tracking shot where Myra, the former innocent ballerina, walks through Waterloo station in full slinky getup looking for johns, wearing a stone cold face that would intimidate O'Hara herself. It's seductive and we know she hates herself. Still, Leigh doesn't play an ounce of self pity or tragedy, she's determined to survive and get a client. In that way its very much a modern acting performance. It could be sexy, nowadays they'd try to make it sexy, but in the delicately built context of the story it's both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. And when she meets up with her not-dead-at-all love, played with sweet nobility by Robert Taylor, she tries to wipe off her lipstick when he goes to make a phone call, and the shame spills out from the screen.
The writing is very graceful (partly out of necessity to appease the almighty Production Code), at times remarkably candid and light (particularly with the earlier love scenes), and not very sentimental or stylized at all (not to say those are bad things, it's just that this film isn't). A lot of the dialogue sounds like conversation. It's romantic, but it doesn't resort to cliché or the easy way out: its tragedy is harsh and entirely unnecessary, the way it usually is in life. And Leigh's performance single handedly keeps you from forgetting Myra's story once the credits roll and you return to life in 2005. Not many actresses have that power. I only wish I could have seen what she would have done with less sorrow in her own life.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Taylor was an inspired choice for the role... Not only does he
have an imposing screen presence, but he brings the perfect mix of
enlightenment, humor, compassion and emotion to the part...
Opposite him, Oscar Winner Vivien Leigh, perfect in her innocent lovely look, radiantly beautiful, specially that evening in a trailing white chiffon gown... Leigh floods her role with personal emotion giving her character a charismatic life of its own... As a great star, she delivers a heartfelt performance turning her character into a woman who undergoes an emotional awakening...
In this sensitive motion picture, Mervyn LeRoy captures all the tenderness and moving qualities... He makes every small thing eloquent, concentrating the highly skilled efforts of many technicians on the telling of a very simple bittersweet love story... Vivien Leigh paints a picture that few men will be able to resist... Her performance captures the audience to the point of complete absorption... Robert Taylor (carrying sympathy all the way) quietly throws all his vitality as an ambition actor into the task... Their film, a credit to both, is a heavily sentimental tale about the vagaries of wartime...
Love is the only thing this movie is about... The story is simple: Myra Lester (Leigh) is a frail creature, an innocent young ballet dancer and Roy Cronin (Taylor) is an aristocratic British army officer... When their eyes met it took no time at all for their hearts to feel the loving call... They meet on London's Waterloo Bridge during an air raid, and fall deeply in love... Their romance is sublime, and they soon agree to marry...
The lover's marriage has to be postponed when the handsome officer is suddenly called to the front... Sadly, the sweet ballerina misses her performance to see her captain off at Waterloo Station... Fired from the troupe, she is joined by her loyal friend, Virginia Field (Kitty Meredith), and the two vainly try to find work, finally sinking into poverty and the threatening fear that goes with it...
The film is replete with beautiful and poignant scenes, specially the 'Auld Lang Syne' waltz scene in the Candlelight Club, before Taylor leaves for France
Seen today, 'Waterloo Bridge' has retained all its charm and power, all its rich sentiment, and tragic evocations...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When pressed to name her favorite of her own films, Vivien Leigh
brushed aside both GONE WITH THE WIND and STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in
favor of this now little-known film based on a failed 1930s stage drama
of the same name previously filmed in 1931 with Mae Clark: WATERLOO
BRIDGE, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Leigh had good reason for her choice.
Although she was dazzling as Scarlett O'Hara and elegantly depraved as
Blanche DuBois, she was never as beautifully photographed as she was in
this 1940 film.
WATERLOO BRIDGE is perhaps best described as one of a number of films "with an English accent" that played to American sympathies for England in the years when England largely stood alone against Nazi Germany. The story itself has a wartime setting: beautiful ballerina Myra (Vivien Leigh) meets and falls passionately in love with officer Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), only to be parted from him when he is called to duty during World War I. Alone and increasingly destitute, she learns that he has been killed in action--and so, broken hearted and unconcerned for herself, she drifts into prostitution, plying the world's oldest profession along Waterloo Bridge.
Although Robert Taylor is a bit miscast, Leigh carries the film with a truly remarkable performance. In the opening portion of the scene, she is at the height of her youthful beauty, and cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg makes the most of it; later, when experience has hardened her, she turns the graceful charm of her earlier scenes upside down to create the bitter, brassy tart that Myra has become. The cast also features an exceptional performance by Lucile Watson as Lady Margaret and notable turns by Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Aubrey Smith, and a host of others.
Although less well known than such tragic romances as Garbo's CAMILLE, WATERLOO BRIDGE is easily the equal of such and considerably better than most. The romantic aura is powerful, the production values are meticulous, the direction, photography, and script are first rate. And at the center of it all we have perhaps the single most beautiful actress of her era, Vivien Leigh, in one of her finest performances. You'll need a box of tissues for this one; don't miss it.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Robert Taylor's favorite movie is also rumored to be one of Vivien's favorites--although at the time she was sorry that Laurence Olivier had not been cast in it. (She was always seeking him as her screen partner!) But Taylor delivers the goods--great charm, presence and obviously respecting the fine role that he plays. Vivien Leigh is a revelation--here she is fresh from Scarlett O'Hara and able to inhabit another character's skin with ease, back in her oh-so-British mode and looking as young and beautiful as ever. It's a pleasure that two such charismatic stars are still being seen in this--their finest moments on screen in one of the greatest tear-jerkers of the '40s. Special mention should be given to Lucille Watson for the way she plays the restaurant scene with Leigh at their first meeting--the mother-in-law getting the wrong impression from Leigh's reception. All of it is romantic, tender and charming--with an Anna Karenina-like ending after a surprising twist. For fans of Taylor and Leigh, it doesn't get any getter than this.
The best decision I made for this year was to buy several videos and enjoy the old movies. Amongst the first purchases was of course "Waterloo Bridge," an unforgettable favorite. It's a tender love story that unfolds a beautiful romance shaken by the cold realities of WW1. I was reaching for kleenexes at certain intervals as it does get sad. Not only does Ms Vivien Leigh fulfil her role with feeling and charm, but to me her beauty is like an exquisite orchid, almost exotic in quality. Also, it's interesting to observe her in this next role after "Gone With the Wind." Obviously she's my favorite leading lady! Robert Taylor turns in a fine, sensitive performance, and with all that charm, what lady could resist? This is one of countless stories that could be told about the upheavals that wartime caused in people's lives. For anyone who appreciates good acting and a fine tale of romance, it's a must-see.
This film is rare in many ways. First off everyone in America was waiting to see what was going to be Vivien Leigh's first movie after her great performance in "Gone with the Wind". And this was it. This film turned out to be her only "North American"(Hollywood type),non costume drama,non southern accent (Scarlett O'Hara/Blanche DuBois)type movie post "GWTW" while she was still in her twenties."That Hamilton Woman" (1941)was a "British" production. Factor in the fact that when asked later in life which one of her films was her personal favorite, what was her reply? Not "GWTW",not "A Streetcar Named Desire",but "Waterloo Bridge"(it was also "Robert Taylors" personal favorite).This movie gives you a little taste of what might have been if she made more "Hollywood" type movies while still in her twenties. Possibly paired up with some of Hollywood's greatest leading men "Humphrey Bogart","Cary Grant",who knows?Will never know.Highly recommended! Find it!
I admire this movie so much, the best I've ever seen since Gone with the Wind, and the most beautiful love story ever told. A touching, tragic, sad story about love, what always makes me cry. As someone mentioned, a perfect movie on rainy days, or anytime, and makes me belive in true love again. The soundtrack was very good, too. My favourite scene's the Auld Lang Syne Waltz in Candlelight Club. Of course, I loved the Vivien Leigh-Robert Taylor couple. After this movie, it was clear that Vivien Leigh is most beautiful creature ever being on this planet, indeed, and Robert Taylor is one of the most handsome men ever. The performances were very good, too, especially Viv's. She played the opposite of Scarlett. It was Robert Taylor's finest performance, too, I haven't got any problem with his american accent. I didn't surprised when I heard that's Vivien's and Robert's favourite film. This movie is beautiful, watch it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is such a beautiful film, with such outstanding performances, that it is unique only to itself. Robert Taylor as Roy, and Vivian Leigh as Myra, are beautiful together and it is hard to believe that any other actors could have ever played the parts of the doomed lovers. Roy meets Myra by accident during an air raid and in that brief instant he believes he is in love. He goes to the ballet where she is a dancer and asks her to join him for dinner. Her ballet instructor, Madame Olga, played by Maria Ouspenskaya, refuses to let her girls become involved and tells Myra to refuse his attentions. The part of the Madame is small but very effective, with an outstanding performance by Maria. Kitty (Virginia Field) stops Roy before he leaves to tell him Myra will meet him at the Candlelight Club. They dine, and at the end of the evening they dance to Auld Lang Syne, as the musicians snuff the candles one by one, until the room is darkened and Roy gently kisses Myra. They part and the next day since the channel is full of mines, he has leave. She spots him standing in the rain, outside her flat, and runs to him, with a wonderful breathlessness. They kiss, and he tells her they are to be married. He is so full of innocent bliss, and she is so enamored of him, you can feel their enthusiasm through the screen. Such is the story, but when he has to leave suddenly and they can't get married right then, she tries to go to him at the station, but just catches a glimpse of him on the train. He is gone and the Madame fires her and her friend Kitty who tells her off for ruining Myra's blissful day. They come upon hard times, and Kitty turns to a life of prostitution. Virginia Field is great as the friend with an Oscar caliber performance. When Myra hears from Roy that his Mother will be coming to meet her she goes to a tea room and while waiting for her, reads in the paper that Roy is presumed dead. She is so disraught that when the Mother finally arrives, very late, she seems strange and incoherent to her. The mother played by Lucile Watson, is not such a wonderful person, who is quite stuffy and sees only what she wants and rejects Myra without even trying to ask what is wrong. From then on it is downhill. Myra thinking Roy dead, goes to prostitution to live, until one day at Waterloo Station, looking for a date, she sees Roy in the crowd. They embrace, and he is still so in love that he doesn't even notice how she looks. She tells Kitty she is going with him to the family estate and they are to be married. The Mother strangely welcomes her, and they have a party where Roy introduces her to the family, and they dance to the same song. Realizing that she might ruin him she tells his mother that there is no way they can wed, because of her past. She leaves, he follows, and even after he finds out what she has done, he still loves her, but she has made the decision to kill herself to save him from himself. The token, a lucky piece that they have shared is all you see in the street after she throws herself into the path of a military truck. The opening and ending scenes of Roy remembering Myra while he strokes the small lucky piece, are sad and poignant, and you will cry for a love so pure, and so unfinished, you wish it had ended differently. Robert Taylor was as great as his former performance as the tragic Armund Duval in Camille many years prior to this part. It was his favorite film, and also was Ms. Leigh's favorite. Beautiful, stunning love story. A classic that never gets old, even 65 years after it's release.
LeRoy made a film which flings prostitution in our faces, and in the
faces of its characters - yet he doesn't dare mention the word or show
the deed explicitly. I'm not complaining; the fact that no one dares
utter the p-word helps the film immeasurably. The tragedy plays out
best in an atmosphere in which Myra's moral stain, or purported moral
stain, is LITERALLY an unspeakable one. No modern director (with the
possible exception of David Mamet) would dare NOT be explicit.
Unfortunately for a love story, the love scenes are the only interactions lacking in electricity, the only interactions, in fact, that aren't interactions at all. They're the dull bits we endure in order to enjoy the real story. I should stress that they're still pleasant enough, so it's not MUCH of an endurance test.
And what IS the real story? The delightful thing about it, I think, is that it's perfectly ambiguous. Taken one way, the romance between hero and heroine is destroyed because of the power of a pervasive, yet false, moral belief: the belief that a prostitute is tainted, unfit for marriage, love, life itself. Taken this way the story is a social tragedy. But arguably the film is asking us to make believe that the pervasive moral belief is in fact true, that the heroine really is (through no fault of her own) tainted; taken THIS way, it's a kind of moral fantasy. Either way it works.
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