During World War I, believing her fiancé to be dead, a young ballerina loses her job and is forced to turn to prostitution.During World War I, believing her fiancé to be dead, a young ballerina loses her job and is forced to turn to prostitution.During World War I, believing her fiancé to be dead, a young ballerina loses her job and is forced to turn to prostitution.
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.
- Apr 27, 2005