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Waterloo Bridge (1931)


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This 1931 Pre-Code version is my favorite film adaptation of Waterloo Bridge. The two leads, Mae Clarke as Myra, the prostitute prowling the streets of WWI era London, and Kent Douglass as Roy, the naive soldier who falls in love with her, are excellent.  Their performances are naturalistic and ring with authenticity.

 

It’s easy to conclude Roy is too good for Myra, who is a master at passive aggressiveness, with abrupt turns from agreeable to abrasive. When Roy offers to pay Myra’s rent, she angrily refuses his money, out of pride, and out of the painful association with men giving her money, which is always a transaction for sex.  She can’t see that Roy’s gesture was an act of kindness, no strings attached.   Roy’s expression, when Myra throws him out of her apartment, is filled with such anger and hurt that you almost root against Myra.  Her nastiness is offset by moments of tenderness, particularly the scenes of her and Roy in embrace, and the way she strokes his head portends a doomed love affair.

 

Doris Lloyd is also very good as Kitty, Myra’s older friend and fellow streetwalker.  Kitty has no delusions.  For her, it’s a job like any other job.  She hopes to save enough money to eventually retire in relative comfort.

 

Waterloo Bridge steers clear of sermonizing.  Clarke manages to show the thrill Myra gets from walking around London, looking for customers, of being your own boss.  This is quite a statement to make about prostitution, and very much Pre-Code.  The realization creeps in that Myra and Roy’s relationship is a one way street.  And Roy remains a bit of an enigma, including his sexuality.  You’re never sure what he sees in Myra.  Is it an adventure from his affluent but stultifying background, like joining the Army?  These questions make Waterloo Bridge all the more intriguing.  

 

I enjoyed the introductions and commentary provided by Dave Karger and William J. Mann, in their Spotlight on Gay Hollywood.  That Waterloo Bridge Director James Whale led an openly gay lifestyle in a 1930’s Hollywood that was much more progressive than the rest of the country, was very good to hear.  Whale imbues the production with an elegance of spirit, while still maintaining a rudimentary realism.   As Mann noted, the sets, contrasting the vividness of London landmarks with Myra’s drab and Spartan apartment, are major strengths.  

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It's an excellent film - and it deserves a better reputation.

 

Perhaps MGM deliberately stood in its' way - in order to increase the importance of the re-make with Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh.

 

The third re-make with Leslie Caron and John Kerr seems to have "evaporated".

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It's an excellent film - and it deserves a better reputation.

 

Perhaps MGM deliberately stood in its' way - in order to increase the importance of the re-make with Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh.

 

The third re-make with Leslie Caron and John Kerr seems to have "evaporated".

Ironically, that's exactly what happened with James Whale's second Masterpiece: Showboat. The gaudy MGM Technicolor version came out in 1951 and blocked us from seeing the Whale version with the legendary Paul Robeson for many years.
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