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WATERLOO BRIDGE, 1940
Movie Review

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WATERLOO BRIDGE MOVIE POSTER
WATERLOO BRIDGE, 1940
Movie Reviews

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Robert Taylor
Review by Virginia De Witt



SYNOPSIS:

A ballet dancer, Myra and a soldier, Roy, fall in love in war time London. He is called back to service too soon for them to be married. In the meantime, Myra is fired from the ballet company in which she works. She believes Roy to have died in battle and, out of work and in despair, drifts into prostitution. RoyÕs unexpected return throws Myra into a quandary. Should she reveal to him her real situation? Their love story begins and ends on Waterloo Bridge.

NOMINATED for 2 OSCARS: Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score

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REVIEW:

This movie bears the distinction of being Vivien LeighÕs first film after her stunning success in Gone With The Wind a year earlier. The Second World War had begun and, although not yet married to Laurence Olivier, they both wanted to return to England, now under threat from the Nazis. The famous lovers were encouraged to stay in Hollywood however, along with other prominent British actors, as the British government felt their high profile in popular films, with strong British themes, would be effective propaganda. A year later, in another effort at morale boosting, she and Olivier would star in That Hamilton Woman, the story of the passionate extra marital love affair of Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Waterloo Bridge is a remake of a 1931 film version, starring Mae Clarke and directed by James Whale, better known for his work on Frankenstein, which in turn was based on a hit Broadway play by Robert Sherwood. The core drama is a melodramatic tearjerker. However, under the strong direction here of Mervyn Leroy, the actors, particularly the leads, rise above the source material. Robert Taylor is quite good, but Vivien Leigh is the stand out. Her sensitivity and intelligence are always in evidence. She has the skill to take a potentially overwrought scene, such as the one where Myra has learned of RoyÕs death from a newspaper item, but must continue having tea with his unwitting mother, and make it believable and moving.

Playing Myra, the fallen ballerina, provided Leigh with a nice counterpoint to the role that made her famous, that tempestuous Southerner, Scarlett OÕHara. Myra is a gentle, refined English woman and LeighÕs delicate beauty only serves to accentuate her characterÕs finer qualities. Myra is not without passion, however. On meeting Roy (Robert Taylor), and in keeping with the high emotion of a war time romance, she is willing to risk everything to pursue a man she might never see again.

Waterloo Bridge is an example of perfect pitch in romantic story telling. This quality is especially evident in the enchanting candlelight dance to Auld Lang Syne in a supper club, where Myra and Roy have their first date. The couple, along with other, almost spectral, dancers swirl in silence. The orchestra begins to wind down, candles are slowly snuffed out, darkness envelops and the couple share their first kiss. It is an emotional and visual high point of the film.

It is not only in the romantic sequences, however, that director Mervyn LeRoy displays his deft touch. To remain in compliance with the Hays Code in effect in Hollywood at the time, MyraÕs descent into prostitution could not be openly addressed visually or in dialogue. The reality of her situation is rendered through costume, silent looks exchanged and Vivien LeighÕs sure handling of the scenes with her friend, Kitty, who precedes her onto the street and with prospective customers. LeighÕs understanding and subtlety as an actor are fully in evidence as she handles the transition from idealistic young lover to a woman who has had her illusions smashed.

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor are perfectly matched here. Physically they make a beautiful couple and Taylor is the epitome of the suave romantic leading man. This was TaylorÕs first really mature leading role and it was widely agreed, after the filmÕs release, that he had risen to the occasion by largely matching Leigh's standard and displaying an energy and confidence that many felt to be lacking in his earlier work. His rightness for the part in every other way even allows the viewer to overlook, but never quite forget, TaylorÕs resolutely American accent as Roy, even as he is supposed to be portraying a Scottish officer.

The film is rounded out by a cast of some of the most solid character character actors of the era - Maria Ouspenskaya as the iron willed mistress of the ballet, Lucile Watson as Lady Margaret Cronin, RoyÕs mother, Virginia Field as Kitty, the friend who takes to prostitution before Myra, and C. Aubrey Smith as the Duke.

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