On the eve of World War II, a British officer revisits Waterloo Bridge and recalls the young man he was at the beginning of World War I and the young ballerina he met just before he left for the front. Myra stayed with him past curfew and is thrown out of the corps de ballet. She survives on the streets of London, falling even lower after she hears her true love has been killed in action. But he wasn't killed. Those terrible years were nothing more than a bad dream is Myra's hope after Roy finds her and takes her to his family's country estate.
Vivien Leigh ... Myra
Robert Taylor ... Roy Cronin
Lucile Watson ... Lady Margaret Cronin
Virginia Field ... Kitty
Maria Ouspenskaya ... Madame Olga Kirowa
C. Aubrey Smith ... The Duke
Janet Shaw ... Maureen
Janet Waldo ... Elsa
Steffi Duna ... Lydia
Virginia Carroll ... Sylvia
Leda Nicova ... Marie
Florence Baker ... Beatrice
Margery Manning ... Mary
Frances MacInerney ... Violet
Eleanor Stewart ... Grace
I've often thought that if Vivien Leigh hadn't had such a rocky and depressing life (manic depression, lost love in Lawrence Olivier, miscarriages, tuberculosis) she would have found a place among Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and the like. She only made 19 films during her 30 year career, although that includes making legend as Scarlett O'Hara, and helping usher in a new era of acting by providing a pitch perfect classical foil as Blanche DuBois to Brando's smoldering and revolutionary Stanley Kowalski. But her favorite performance was that of Myra Lester in the tragic film Waterloo Bridge. Watching it it's no surprise: the film is subtly directed with a powerful story and well built characters that are an actor's dream to inhabit.
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.
When pressed to name her favorite of her own films, Vivien Leigh brushed aside both GONE WITH THE WIND and STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in favor of this now little-known film based on a failed 1930s stage drama of the same name previously filmed in 1931 with Mae Clark: WATERLOO BRIDGE, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Leigh had good reason for her choice. Although she was dazzling as Scarlett O'Hara and elegantly depraved as Blanche DuBois, she was never as beautifully photographed as she was in this 1940 film.
WATERLOO BRIDGE is perhaps best described as one of a number of films "with an English accent" that played to American sympathies for England in the years when England largely stood alone against Nazi Germany. The story itself has a wartime setting: beautiful ballerina Myra (Vivien Leigh) meets and falls passionately in love with officer Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), only to be parted from him when he is called to duty during World War I. Alone and increasingly destitute, she learns that he has been killed in action--and so, broken hearted and unconcerned for herself, she drifts into prostitution, plying the world's oldest profession along Waterloo Bridge.
Although Robert Taylor is a bit miscast, Leigh carries the film with a truly remarkable performance. In the opening portion of the scene, she is at the height of her youthful beauty, and cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg makes the most of it; later, when experience has hardened her, she turns the graceful charm of her earlier scenes upside down to create the bitter, brassy tart that Myra has become. The cast also features an exceptional performance by Lucile Watson as Lady Margaret and notable turns by Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Aubrey Smith, and a host of others.
Although less well known than such tragic romances as Garbo's CAMILLE, WATERLOO BRIDGE is easily the equal of such and considerably better than most. The romantic aura is powerful, the production values are meticulous, the direction, photography, and script are first rate. And at the center of it all we have perhaps the single most beautiful actress of her era, Vivien Leigh, in one of her finest performances. You'll need a box of tissues for this one; don't miss it.
Robert Taylor was an inspired choice for the role... Not only does he have an imposing screen presence, but he brings the perfect mix of enlightenment, humor, compassion and emotion to the part...
Opposite him, Oscar Winner Vivien Leigh, perfect in her innocent lovely look, radiantly beautiful, specially that evening in a trailing white chiffon gown... Leigh floods her role with personal emotion giving her character a charismatic life of its own... As a great star, she delivers a heartfelt performance turning her character into a woman who undergoes an emotional awakening...
In this sensitive motion picture, Mervyn LeRoy captures all the tenderness and moving qualities... He makes every small thing eloquent, concentrating the highly skilled efforts of many technicians on the telling of a very simple bittersweet love story... Vivien Leigh paints a picture that few men will be able to resist... Her performance captures the audience to the point of complete absorption... Robert Taylor (carrying sympathy all the way) quietly throws all his vitality as an ambition actor into the task... Their film, a credit to both, is a heavily sentimental tale about the vagaries of wartime...
Love is the only thing this movie is about... The story is simple: Myra Lester (Leigh) is a frail creature, an innocent young ballet dancer and Roy Cronin (Taylor) is an aristocratic British army officer... When their eyes met it took no time at all for their hearts to feel the loving call... They meet on London's Waterloo Bridge during an air raid, and fall deeply in love... Their romance is sublime, and they soon agree to marry...
The lover's marriage has to be postponed when the handsome officer is suddenly called to the front... Sadly, the sweet ballerina misses her performance to see her captain off at Waterloo Station... Fired from the troupe, she is joined by her loyal friend, Virginia Field (Kitty Meredith), and the two vainly try to find work, finally sinking into poverty and the threatening fear that goes with it...
The film is replete with beautiful and poignant scenes, specially the 'Auld Lang Syne' waltz scene in the Candlelight Club, before Taylor leaves for France…
Seen today, 'Waterloo Bridge' has retained all its charm and power, all its rich sentiment, and tragic evocations...
This film is one of a tiny handful which, despite repeated viewings, I would award a vote of ten out of ten. Not because it's a great cultural classic studied in hushed tones by post-graduate students (for all I know this may be so, but I've never heard of it), but because it succeeds entirely and seamlessly in what it sets out to do.
'Waterloo Bridge' is one of those rare films that never seems to strike a false note or put a foot wrong. There is not a wasted moment in the screenplay -- every shot has meaning, every scene plays its part -- and the dialogue gains its power through the lightest of touches. The single scene that brings me to tears every time is that brief, banal interview in the café, with the dreadful unknowing irony of every word Lady Margaret says.
Yet for an avowed tear-jerker, and one that centres around wartime separation and hardship, in an era where unemployment could mean literal starvation, the film contains perhaps more scenes of unalloyed happiness than any modern-day romance. The script is understated, sparkling with laughter and even at its darkest salted with black jest, while no-one can doubt the central couple's joy in each other. They themselves acknowledge, and repeatedly, the sheer implausibility of their romance: but war changes all the rules, makes people -- as Roy says -- more intensely alive. (The actor David Niven, for one, married an adored wife in wartime within days of their first meeting.)
As Myra Lester, Vivien Leigh has seldom given a more lovely or accomplished performance. There is a world of difference between her depiction of the sweet-faced innocent who is mistaken for a school-girl at the start of the film and the sullen, worn creature who saunters through Waterloo Station... and then is miraculously reborn. Myra's face is an open book, and Leigh shows us every shade of feeling. In a reversal of expectations, she is the practical, hesitant one, while Roy, older, is the impetuous dreamer; a role in which Robert Taylor is both endearing and truly convincing. I find few cinematic romances believable, but for me this lightning courtship rings utterly true in every glance or smile that passes between them, from the moment they catch sight of each other for the second time.
Virginia Field also shines as Myra's friend, the hardbitten ex-chorus-girl Kitty, while C.Aubrey Smith provides sly humour as an unexpectedly supportive Colonel-in-Chief and Lucille Watson is both stately and sympathetic as Lady Margaret. But this is really Vivien Leigh's film, with Taylor's more than able aid, and she is transcendent.
'Waterloo Bridge' has a touch of everything: laughter, tears, tension, misunderstanding, sweetness, beauty and fate. It couldn't be made in today's Hollywood without acquiring an unbearable dose of schmaltz; in the era of 'Pretty Woman' it probably couldn't be made at all. But of its kind it is perfect. The only caveat I'd make, under the circumstances a minor one, is that -- as again in 'Quentin Durward' fifteen years later -- Robert Taylor's lone American accent in the role of a supposed Scot is from time to time obtrusive.
Of her films, this was Vivien Leigh's personal favorite.
Of all the classic Hollywood films ever made, this somewhat obscure title happens to be one of the most popular in China, especially among college students. There are even audio guides for students to practice their English by reciting dialogue from this film. The reason for why this particular film has become so endeared among the Chinese is anyone's guess. One possibility is that the popularity of Gone with the Wind (1939) in China led many to seek other movies starring Vivien Leigh.
The play originally opened on Broadway in New York City, New York on 6 January 1930 and ran for 64 performances.
This was Robert Taylor's favorite of his films.
Premiered on the same day (May 14, 1940) that Rotterdam was bombed by the German Luftwaffe.
The scene in which Myra and Roy dance to "Auld Lang Syne" was supposed to have dialogue, but nobody could come up with the right words. At about 3:00 in the morning before shooting the scene was to take place, Mervyn LeRoy, a veteran of silent films, realized that there shouldn't be any lines and that the images should speak for themselves. The result is the most celebrated scene of the film.
Released a few months after the invasion of Poland, and in the middle of the Blitzkrieg, this is likely the earliest Hollywood film to include the Second World War in its plot.