Waterloo Bridge (1931)

 Waterloo Bridge (2)

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Run time: 1h 21min | Drama, Romance, War
Director: James Whale
Writers: Robert E. Sherwood, Benn W. Levy, Tom Reed
Stars: Mae Clarke, Kent Douglass, Bette Davis
Unable to find work in London at the height of World War I, American chorus girl Myra Deauville resorts to prostitution to support herself. The subject of prostitution, though not banned, was already controversial in Hollywood, and various State censor boards demanded severe cuts in the film until the imposition of the Production Code in 1934 made it impossible to release it in its original form. It remained unseen and largely unknown for almost the next 50 years.
Box Office
Budget: $251,289 (estimated)

4 responses to “Waterloo Bridge (1931)”

  1. IMDBReviewer says:

    I’ve always wanted to see this film and was delighted to find that it was "found" in the 1970’s after it was considered to be lost. It took a few more decades for me to actually see it, though (TCM shows it). What a great version of "Waterloo Bridge" this is! I grew up on the Leigh-Taylor version and have recently seen the later Caron-Kerr remake "Gaby". Both are okay, but not as good as the original, which remains the most faithful to the play upon which it based. The additions of the hero’s family and their country estate and Myra’s death (in the play her fate is left uncertain) were added by the screenplay writer. I can see why Universal Pictures needed to expand the play which has only two sets (a section of Waterloo Bridge and Myra’s shabby furnished room). Mae Clarke and Kent Douglass are well cast in the leads and of course, this version gives us the opportunity to see the great Bette Davis in one of her early screen roles.

  2. tfsadmin says:

    Having seen Mae Clarke being carried away by Frankenstein and getting a grapefruit in the face by James Cagney, I had a clear image of her but not of her talent.

    I agree with the other reviewers that this is one knock-out performance. At a time when many actors in early talkies were still being very stagey (with stilted manners and playing to the back row), Mae Clarke built a performance that was modern and genuine.

    The whole production is good (especially Arthur Edeson’s cinematography and James Whale’s direction), but Clarke’s acting is what I’ll always remember.

  3. tfsadmin says:

    Really excellent pre-code film, set in wartime London where an ex-chorus girl/current street walker (played by Mae Clarke) heads over to Waterloo Bridge to try and find herself a soldier on leave, and she meets wealthy, baby-faced, nineteen-year-old raw/green Roy and invites him up to her flat. He immediately falls in love and thinks she's a "good girl", unaware of her real walk of life. She falls for him too, but keeps putting him off, racked with guilt over her secret "career". Meanwhile he keeps pressing on, sneaking in her window, tricking her into meeting his family for a weekend of tennis, tea, and cocktails, asking her to marry him, etc. – he's completely smitten!

    Top-notch acting and a good deal of chemistry between the two leads helps make this a really interesting, absorbing film. Their conversations together come across as quite realistic, and the performance given here by Mae Clarke is amazing – extremely well-done and memorable. I also enjoyed seeing a very young Bette Davis who appears here in a very small role as Roy's sister. Only one thing that bothered me about this film is, why oh why, as I have often seen done in period films made during this time, do they have the actresses appearing in modern, early 30s dresses, rather than period costume? Oh well, still a really first-rate film, well worth seeing.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    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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