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The premiere of Gone With the Wind in late 1939 had made British actress Vivien Leigh an overnight star. Since Producer David O. Selznick had the rights to Leigh's services for one more film, and since he was producing Rebecca (1940), starring Leigh's lover, Laurence Olivier, the couple thought co-starring in the Daphne du Maurier adaptation together would be ideal for all concerned. Selznick tested Leigh, but decided she was too forceful to play the timid Mrs. DeWynter. Olivier's next film was Pride and Prejudice (1940) at MGM, and he thought Leigh would be perfect for the female lead in that as well. But Greer Garson was cast instead, and Leigh was loaned to MGM for a remake of the popular Robert Sherwood tear-jerker, Waterloo Bridge (1940).
Leigh plays Myra, a ballerina, who meets a soldier, Roy, on London's Waterloo Bridge during an air raid in World War I. The couple fall in love, but before they can marry, he ships out. Impoverished, believing her fiancead, Myra turns to prostitution. Then Roy returns.... Waterloo Bridge had been filmed once before, in 1931, by Frankenstein (1931) director James Whale at Universal, with Mae Clarke giving the best performance of her career as Myra. It would be remade as Gaby (1956), starring Leslie Caron.
Robert Taylor, one of MGM's top stars, was cast as Roy in Waterloo Bridge. Just two years earlier, Leigh had played a supporting role to Taylor in A Yank at Oxford (1938,), shot at MGM's British studios. Although he was a bigger star than Leigh up to this time, Taylor had no problem with MGM capitalizing on Leigh's success by giving her top billing in Waterloo Bridge. Known more for his good looks than his acting skills, Taylor at 29 was eager to play a complex, mature romantic lead, rather than the impetuous youths he'd played in Camille (1936) and Three Comrades (1938).
Leigh, of course, thought Olivier should play Roy. The two had been living together since he'd come to Hollywood, although both were still married to others. Still on friendly terms with her estranged husband, who had joined the British Navy when war had broken out in Europe, Leigh wrote to him, "Robert Taylor is the man in the picture, and as it was written for Larry, it's a typical piece of miscasting. I am afraid it will be a dreary job..." Taylor's performance was to prove Leigh wrong. Both of them played the star-crossed lovers with a touching tenderness that transcended the cliches of the plot. Waterloo Bridge was Taylor's favorite of his films. "It was the first time I really gave a performance that met the often unattainable standards I was always setting for myself," Taylor said later. "Miss Leigh was simply great in her role, and she made me look better."
Director Mervyn Leroy, who had begun his career in silent films, knew when to let the images tell the story without dialogue, and his touch is evident in the memorable scene in the nightclub. It's the last dance of the evening, and Myra and Roy are dancing to "Auld Lang Syne." One by one, the musicians finish playing their parts and snuff out the candles, until, finally, the music ends, and in darkness and silence, the lovers kiss. As Leroy explained, "a look, a gesture, a touch can convey much more meaning than spoken sentences."
One week after the successful sneak preview of Waterloo Bridge in February, 1940, the Academy Awards for 1939 were held in Hollywood. Gone With the Wind swept the awards, and Vivien Leigh was a popular choice as best actress. Shortly after Waterloo Bridge wrapped, both Leigh's husband and Olivier's wife filed for divorce in England, naming Leigh and Olivier as correspondents. Once free, Leigh and Olivier married in August of 1940.
Both the public and the critics liked Waterloo Bridge, and some were pleasantly surprised at Taylor's performance, praising it as "surprisingly flexible and mature." Nobody seemed to mind that as the supposedly Scottish hero, Taylor did not even attempt a British accent. As for Leigh, she proved that her Scarlett was no fluke. Howard Barnes wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, "Miss Leigh is so brilliant and beautiful a leading lady that she gives the dated tragedy immense power and conviction."
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Producer: Sidney Franklin
Screenplay: S.N. Behrman, Hans Rameau, George Froeschel, based on the play by Robert E. Sherwood
Editor: George Boemler
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Costume Design: Adrian, Gile Steele
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary; sets, Edwin B. Willis
Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Vivien Leigh (Myra Lester), Robert Taylor (Capt. Roy Cronin), Lucile Watson (Lady Margaret Cronin), C. Aubrey Smith (Duke), Maria Ouspenskaya (Mme. Olga), Virginia Field (Kitty).
BW-109m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri