The Bette Davis Project: Waterloo Bridge (1931)


Set in England during World War I, this film revolves around the tragic romance between a soldier and a prostitute. Mae Clarke (Frankenstein and The Public Enemy) is a chorus girl who turns to the streets as work becomes scarce. She falls in love with a naive young soldier, played by Douglass Montgomery (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), who is not aware of her profession.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Now, there has been three versions of Robert Sherwood’s famous play. The 1940 version, with Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind) and Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe), produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is among Hollywood’s finest tearjerkers, but this adaptation (by Universal Studios) is pretty good too — it has plenty of grit and panache.

Waterloo Bridge, written by Tom Reed and Benn W. Levy, directed by James Whale (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein), has been deservedly praised for its frankness. Over the next few years this kind of honest approach to social issues will disappear. Here we get a glimpse at what could have been had the Hays Office not suddenly began enforcing its silly rules.

Director Whale, who is best remembered for his Universal monster films, seems at ease in this kind of doomed romance. He stages some impressive scenes. The film’s finale, which involves a massive air raid on London, is quite powerful. Whales also demonstrates great skill during the film’s most intimate moments.

Clarke gives a knockout performance. 1931 was a fantastic year for the actor. She also appeared in perennial favorites like The Front PageThe Public Enemy and Frankenstein. It’s too bad that her career quickly evaporated into oblivion. Montgomery is adequate, but it’s Clarke’s show all the way.

Bette Davis has a thankless role as a socialite. Universal had put her on a three-month contract, but Davis was mostly assigned to second banana roles. The role didn’t do anything for her career. She does look lovely in her few scenes, but this is Clarke’s show.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Though Waterloo Bridge was a success, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka Oscars) ignored it. Clarke’s work, Whale’s direction, and Arthur Edeson’s (The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca) cinematography, deserved recognition. I much prefer the 1940 movie (MGM remade it again as Gaby, with Leslie Caron and John Kerr), but this is a very good film. B&W, 81 minutes, Not Rated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s