Seth Parker takes in Robbie Turner and protects him from his cruel father Rube. When the father disappears, Seth intends to raise Robbie as his own son. The vindictive father attacks Mary ... See full summary »
William A. Seiter
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Nan Reynolds encourages her copywriter husband Bill to open his own agency. Nearly out of business, he finally gets a client. Former girlfriend Patricia Berkeley writes a very successful ... See full summary »
Ronald Quayle escapes from prison. He was sent there for murdering his father, based on the testimony of his stepmother, Caroline. An explosion disfigures him, but plastic surgery gives him... See full summary »
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
As this picture unfolds on the screen, you will find no maudlin, mushy, run-of-the-mill story, but a triumph of human emotion depicting the glamour of an all-conquering love in the sordid surroundings of a great city. (Print Ad- The Castilian, ((Castile, NY)) 8 October 1931)
The coming of sound to Hollywood was such a mighty upheaval as far as the mechanics of filmmaking went, that those years from 1928 to 1931 were in many ways a testing ground for new approaches, and a trial for directors. Of those that succeeded, there were old pros like Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, Ernst Lubitsch and John Ford who were able to make incredibly smooth transitions simply by weaving sound in as another layer in their existing technique. And then there were the newcomers from theatre backgrounds, people like George Cukor, Rouben Mamoulian and of course James Whale who were accustomed to directing dialogue but completely unused to the world of movies. Cukor and Mamoulian got off to shaky starts, and their earliest films are rather poor. Whale however seems to have had taken instantly to the talkie medium, picking up film grammar with ease and yet with the unique approach of the outsider.
In Waterloo Bridge, Whale's second picture, we open with a sweeping tracking shot, reminiscent of those with which the afore-mentioned Mr Curtiz often opened his pictures both before and after the sound barrier. Whale isn't yet savvy enough to use this to key us into the setting and introduce ideas as Curtiz would, but his complex and vibrant arrangements show his understanding of the movement and unlimited scope of cinematic space, with a shot ironically inside a theatre! In dialogue scenes Whale has a distinct way of framing actors, often from the knees up with their heads very close to the top of the shot, which seems emphasise the height of the frame as being equal to the width. The camera is constantly moving round, often giving us 360-degree coverage of a location. It's as if Whale, freed from the limited proportions of the stage, is now striving to give us a sense of the "real world" spaces that motion pictures can take place in.
Another great thing about Whale is that he makes very abrupt and effective changes in focus. Take the moment when Mae Clarke and Kent Douglass both realise that the other is American. Up until that point the whole scene had been in long mid-shots, with a lot of movement in the frame, but then we suddenly cut in to these bold close-ups with no intermediary ground, and the moment is given great weight as the point at which the couple "clicked". There's an even better example in the scene when Clarke and Montgomery get to know each other in her apartment. Again this is mostly in mid-shot, with the occasional head and shoulders shot. However, once Douglas has left and Clarke slips into character for her "night job", there is again this very jarring cut to a close-up, this time of Clarke in her dressing-table mirror. It's a sudden and very deliberate stepping from the carefree world of the courting couple to the very private space of Clarke and it makes the shift in tone at this point all the more palpable.
The leading couple, Clarke and Douglass (later credited as Douglass Montgomery in pictures such as Little Women) were two of the many stars who were fairly noticeable in the early sound era, but would soon fade into obscurity for one reason or another. I have seen them both in a number of other roles, but never has either of them been as good. Clarke has a really natural feel for the dialogue, and shows great understatement with her near-deadpan facial expressions. Douglass too is very restrained, managing to give a believable portrait of Roy's naiveté, his one break into powerful emotions very credible. "Restraint" and "understatement" are not words that could be applied to the rest of the cast, who by and large are a delightful rogues gallery of hammy oddballs. We have some sharp-tongued cockneys like the potato woman and the landlady, played by Rita Carlisle and Ethel Griffies respectively, both of whom would roughly reprise their roles for the 1940 remake. Best of all however is Frederick Kerr in one of his unfortunately small number of film appearances, doing his typical blustering aristocrat act. Many of his curmudgeonly mutterings were no doubt written specifically for, if not by, Kerr himself. Players like these add spice to the production and give contrast to the subtlety and seriousness of the leads.
Waterloo Bridge is one of those pictures that have been revived today by the magic wand of the "pre-code era" label. This tends to be a bit of a double-edged sword, because while on the one hand it allows for DVD releases of pictures that would otherwise be nigh-on impossible to see, it means they also tend to get remembered and analysed for their sauce and sass more than for anything else. But aside from the somewhat frank handling of prostitution that marks it as a product of its time, Waterloo Bridge is a fine, stirring drama, which thanks to the efforts of its cast and director has a sense of realism, immediacy and intimacy rarely seen in pictures of that age.
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