Cast & Crew
On his way to France to fight in World War II, Colonel Roy Cronin stops his cab on London's Waterloo Bridge and reflects on the past: It is 1914 and air raid sirens screech as a group of young girls hurry past, seeking shelter. One drops her purse and Roy helps its owner, Myra Lester, a beautiful ballet dancer, to retrieve it. They seek shelter together and a whirlwind wartime courtship follows, resulting in Roy asking Myra to marry him. Before the ceremony can be performed, however, Roy is called to the front and Myra is fired for her impetuousness by Madame Olga Kirowa, the troupe's tyranical ballet mistress. When Myra's friend Kitty sticks up for her, Madame Kirowa also fires her. Unable to find work in another ballet or show, the two dancers soon find themselves broke and hungry. One afternoon, Myra is supposed to meet Roy's aristocratic mother for the first time. While waiting, Myra sees a notice about Roy's death in the newspaper and faints. When Lady Margaret arrives, Myra cannot tell her the terrible news, and her erratic behavior shocks and angers Roy's mother, who leaves in disgust. Myra then falls ill and lies close to death from grief. To earn money to cover her friend's medical expenses, Kitty drifts into street walking. When Myra recovers, she is touched by her friend's sacrifice, and with no desire to live, she, too, becomes a prostitute. One year later, Roy returns to London, and the first sight that he sees upon getting off the train is Myra, who has come to pick up soldiers. He believes that she has come to meet him, and knowing nothing of her life in the past year, takes her home to his family estate in Scotland. Although Myra tries to convince herself that they can be happy, she soon realizes that her past will ruin Roy's life and, after confessing all to his mother, she runs away. Roy follows, despite Kitty's revelations about Myra, but she eludes him and kills herself by throwing herself in front of an onrushing truck on Waterloo Bridge. Clutching the good luck charm that he had once given Myra, Roy leaves for the front.
C. Aubrey Smith
Leo G. Carroll
S. N. Behrman
Edwin B. Willis
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 fianc¿ead, 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
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Waterloo Bridge (1940) - Vivien Leigh & Robert Taylor Star in the 1940 version of WATERLOO BRIDGE
In 1931 James Whale directed a fine version of Wate rloo Bridge for Universal, Starring Mae Clark of Frankenstein and The Public Enemy. Unlike more salacious films from the Pre-Code era, Whale's adaptation uses the lax censorship to present prostitution in an adult context. Myra must choose between sin or starvation, and hates herself. Her eventual decision to run away from the soldier's proposal of marriage comes after a talk with her fiancé's sympathetic mother. Myra becomes a victim of society's cruel code of conduct.
This disc's version of Waterloo Bridge is the glossy MGM remake from 1940, directed by Mervyn Le Roy and starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. Promoted as Leigh's first film since Gone with the Wind, it was an immediate success and has remained a favorite "women's film". Nothing could be more basic: a hopeless love affair begins under wartime conditions. Actors Leigh and Taylor have the film mostly to themselves, and the story allows Ms. Leigh to convey a wide range of emotions.
Of course, a few changes had to be made. The first Waterloo Bridge was barred from exhibition with the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934. From then on movie adaptations would disguise women of the night as maids, hostesses and seamstresses, without explaining why they wander into the fog to meet men under streetlamps.
Le Roy's version alters the story to appease the censors and to maintain the MGM tradition of quality entertainment. Vivien Leigh's Myra doesn't begin as a common showgirl but as a ballerina in a touring company run by the unyielding Maria Ouspenskaya; just stepping out with Robert Taylor's Roy Cronin costs Myra her job. Not helping is the fact that Roy identifies Myra to his social peers as a dancer (common showgirl) as opposed to a ballet dancer (cultured artist).
From then on Myra's story is a bit unclear. Her descent into the sex trade is addressed only in a couple of oblique exchanges with her best friend Kitty (Virginia Field). Besides wearing a slightly flashy dress and loitering around Waterloo Station looking nervous, we see nothing of Myra plying her trade. She remains glamorous and healthy, her new profession reflected only in her unhappy facial expressions. Myra meets no unsavory characters and isn't pestered by customers following her home. In short, it's hard to imagine this Myra having sex with anyone.
But the fact that Myra is a fallen woman is a death sentence; the moment her status changes, her fate is sealed. Sherwood's play and the 1931 version examine this injustice and make a plea for understanding; MGM's version simply accepts it as The Way Things Must Be. Roy's Mother (Lucile Watson) clearly has great affection for her future daughter-in-law yet offers no encouraging words when Myra reveals the truth -- a piece of clever screenwriting, considering that nobody ever states anything directly. Myra is damaged goods, so "case closed". I suppose there are no wives in mother's society circle hiding tainted pasts or lurid indiscretions? MGM's Waterloo Bridge reinforces a harsh status quo: "He must never know!"
Viewers looking for romantic tragedy will find this Waterloo Bridge more than satisfying. Vivien Leigh has no real chemistry with her leading man, a recurring problem within the sterile MGM pantheon. But Leigh projects her feelings directly into the camera, inviting us to share her every emotion.
We empathize with Leigh's Myra as long as we don't question the social details. MGM probably skirted the censors by stressing the film's high-toned trappings -- the ballet performances, Roy's "quality" family. The film is also careful to stipulate that Myra and Roy's few meetings involve no sexual hanky-panky, thereby establishing a firm boundary between the "good" Myra and the "bad" Myra. A flashback framing device has Roy remembering Myra 25 years later, back on Waterloo Bridge. He may still love her, but his love was never put to the real test.
MGM's Waterloo Bridge has a number of similarities with, of all things, the horror film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both movies were first produced by other studios in the racy Pre-Code years. The remake rights were purchased along with the films themselves, from Universal and Paramount respectively. MGM concocted glossier, sanitized versions of both properties as vehicles for its biggest stars, while the originals were kept almost completely out of circulation. Oddly, Waterloo Bridge has an obvious thematic parallel with Dr. Jekyll. Neither Jekyll nor Myra wish to do harm, but they turn both into antisocial "monsters". Under the Production Code, puritan society has no place for monsters or fallen women. Just by being what they are, we know that both must die.
Of incidental note: actress and prolific cartoon voiceover artist Janet Waldo (the voice of Judy Jetson) has a brief bit as one of Myra's fellow ballerinas.
Warners' stand-alone release of Waterloo Bridge presents the film in a fine B&W encoding that flatters the Oscar®-nominated cinematography of Joseph Ruttenberg. His moody lighting sets Vivien Leigh off beautifully, without resorting to extreme filters or other tricks. Herbert Stothart's music score was also nominated, but all we remember from the clear audio track are snippets of Swan Lake. A second French mono track is included as well.
A re-issue trailer is the disc's only extra. Waterloo Bridge may be a classic only for the handkerchief set but both of its stars list it as their favorite picture. Robert Taylor was quoted as being happy to finally be allowed to fulfill his potential as a serious leading man. Vivien Leigh is on record as wishing that Laurence Olivier had been cast instead of Taylor, but said that Waterloo Bridge is her favorite as well. Perhaps it was an untroubled production, and thus less painful to revisit.
For more information about Waterloo Bridge, visit Warner Video. To order Waterloo Bridge, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Waterloo Bridge (1940) - Vivien Leigh & Robert Taylor Star in the 1940 version of WATERLOO BRIDGE
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 Gone With the Wind's popularity 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.
According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter on September 18, 1939, Selznick-International had just closed a deal with Universal to purchase the rights to Robert Sherwood's play. According to news items in Daily Variety, after M-G-M obtained the rights to the play, they negotiated with Laurence Olivier to play the male lead in this picture, but Olivier's prior commitment to Warner Bros. to make The Prime Minister prevented his appearance. This picture marked Vivien Leigh's first performance after her success in Gone with the Wind. In materials contained in the MPAA/PCA Files at the AMPAS Library, Joseph I. Breen cautioned M-G-M to eliminate all details of prostitution in the film and any suggestion that "Lady Margaret" May have condoned "Myra's" actions as a prostitute. The British Board of Film Censors filed a formal protest with Breen regarding the scenes in the picture depicting air raids over London. The film received Academy Award nominations in the Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Music (Original Score) categories. For other films based on Robert E. Sherwood's play, see entry above for the 1931 film Waterloo Bridge.