Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Synopsis:

During WWI, an ex-chorus girl, played by Mae Clarke (The Public Enemy), turns to the streets as work becomes scarce. She falls in love with a young soldier, played by Douglass Montgomery (Little Women), who is not aware of her profession.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“We’re not as bad as all that!”

Waterloo Bridge is an adaptation of Robert Sherwood’s play of the same name. Sherwood’s play has been adapted to the screen numerous times. 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 version, produced by Universal Studios, is pretty good too — it has plenty of grit and panache.

Directed by James Whale (Frankenstein), Waterloo Bridge has been deservedly praised for its frankness. Because of the implementation of the Hollywood code in 1934, this kind of candid approach to social issues will soon disappear.

British filmmaker Whale, who is best remembered for his Universal monster films, seems at ease with 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.

Mae Clarke gives a knockout performance as the ill-fated prostitute. 1931 was a fantastic year for the actress. She also appeared in classics like The Front PageThe Public Enemy and Frankenstein. It’s too bad that her career quickly evaporated into oblivion. Douglass Montgomery is fine, but he’s clearly overshadowed by Clarke.

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. Davis does look lovely in her few scenes.

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.

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