Saturday, June 20, 2009

Waterloo Bridge (1931)

Director: James Whale
USA 1931
81 min

The last film in The Forbidden Hollywood collection - volume 1.
Unfortunately, this first Waterloo Bridge has for a long time stood in the shadows of Mervyn LeRoy's more clean-cut 1940's version with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. The Hay's Code was a sneaky invention, successfully covering up the naughty pre-code films they couldn't morally stand for, and hiding them in the darkest corners available - which probably was one of the causes that the superb leading lady Mae Clarke didn't receive the immortal stardom she really deserved.

This war melodrama takes place in London during World War I. We see Myra Deauville (Mae Clarke) working as a chorus girl on stage. The backstage scene is very interesting in the matter of the pre-code aura - even though the dancers do wear clothes (or at least, underwear), they are quite transparent and provocative. (See for yourself, two pictures down!)

Myra's stage career is however not too successful, and soon she is forced out on the streets and make "play for pay" her business to get money for the rent.
But then a 19 year old soldier Roy Cronin (Douglass Montgomery, as Kent Douglass) turn up during an air raid. He follows Myra home, and they instantly fall for each other. This soldier is however very genuine and naïve, and fails to understand Myra's profession - and Myra don't want to ruin their relationship by telling him. Her guilt makes her several times trying to convince Roy not to see her anymore, but she fails to change his mind. He eventually tricks her into meeting his loving family (with Bette Davis in an early role as his sister), who immediately understands that Myra is not a chorus girl as she says. When Roy proposes Myra is haunted with guilt and ambivalence. She wants nothing more than live a clean, normal life with the man she loves, but she is horrified about ruining Roy's feeling about her if he finds out about her dirty secret.

- How old are you, Roy? - Nineteen, why?

An intense scene with Myra and Roy.

Kitty and Myra keeping an eye open for customers.

Mayor Fred Wetherby and Janet Cronin.

This is overall a perfect melodrama. The two main actors Clarke and Douglass have a wonderful chemistry, and their down to earth way of identifying with their characters really put their claws into you - and being a women, I of course got tears in my eyes with Myra torn apart by her guilt and Roy's require less love for the fallen woman.
Some comic relief is delivered with perfection with the supporting characters, for example Myra's probably-too-old-for-her-job fellow worker Kitty (Doris Lloyd), and Roy's nearly deaf and senile stepfather Mayor Fred Wetherby (Frederick Kerr).

Scene: A heartbreaking scene where Myra seems to get an anxiety attack due to burden of her guilt.

It is beyond me how Clarke and Douglass (especially Clarke) wasn't more appreciated. 1931 was of course a quite productive year for Mae Clarke; outside of Waterloo Bridge, she played Dr. Frankenstein's fiancée in another James Whale produced classic, Frankenstein, and also got a grapefruit pushed in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy.


Louie said...

I absolutely love Mae Clarke! Totally underrated as an actress. There are so many great films she's in, "Parole Girl", "Turn Back The Clock", "Fast Workers", "Penthouse", etc.

Kate Gabrielle said...

I bookmarked this post to come back and read it, because I have Waterloo Bridge in my netflix queue now, but I haven't seen it yet! I'm going to watch it and then come read your review :D

Lotten said...

Great to hear another one with the same opinion!

Kate Gabrielle:
Sounds like a swell idea! Please let me know what you thought about it ;)

Classic Maiden said...

I love Mae Clarke too, and way back when I saw this film for the first time, it really made me realize her potential.

All the Pre-Code sets from Warners are wonderful - have you bought the Universal Pre-Code Hollywood collection yet?

cheers! Sebina

Lolita said...

Classic Maiden:
No, not yet! I invested in the three Forbidden Hollywood box sets first! But believe me, soon I will grab a hold of that one too...

Matthew Coniam said...

1931 was her year all right - Front Page too! Barbara Stanwyck said: “If I’d made a guess as to which of us would make it big I’d have guessed Mae, because she was the better dancer and the most vivacious.”
Like you, and Babs, I can't imagine why she fell away afterwards. Just those elusive breaks again. (

Classic Maiden said...

Matthew: thanks for the Stanwyck quote :).

Lotten said...

Matthew Coniam:
Yes, thanks for that quote! And for the blog post link - and for once I actually already have read it! I bet the Hays Code killed a lot of potential careers, Clarke's realistic acting belongs perhaps more to the pre-code era.

Matthew Coniam said...

You've turned into Lotten on me again!

Lolita said...

Damn it... It's because blogger gets confused when I made another gmail account. Sigh.

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