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WATERLOO BRIDGE-BETTE DAVIS FILM


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WBHV is partnering up with TCM Archives to bring us the Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 1 featuring Red Headed Woman w/ Jean Harlow, Baby Face (the uncut version) w/ Barbara Stanwyck and Waterloo Bridge. It was said earlier this year and also mention in the HTF chat in February.

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The second version didn't make any sense because of the movie code. The girl was a prostitute to start with. I never understood why Vivien Leigh would become a prostitute when she thought her boyfriend was killed in the war, since she wasn't one at the start of the film. It didn't make any sense. This original version made sense.

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I think Mae Clark was terrific (I want to see more of her work now) and I'm glad I got this version on tape! A real pre-code gem, I'm pleased TCM placed it in the 8:00 EST slot.

 

As for making more sense, I don't quite agree. At least one scene has me puzzled. Why did she "confess" to Roy's mother before they had even become engaged? In the remake it makes sense because they are engaged and she feels it's gone too far so she panicks. But in the original she was not committed to him, had only just met the family, and could still just take off without owing any explanations to anyone. In the remake it was starvation that drove her to prostitution and that does make sense, if she really had no family. It still happens, which I know for a fact. The tragic ending was also too abrupt, the pacing of the remake was better (though I actually prefer the happier ending of the even later version, Gaby).

 

And I must say I really had a hard time with the girlishness of the actor playing Roy (Kent Douglass?). He wore more makeup than Mae, Lol!

 

I don't mean to imply I didn't enjoy and appreciate this film's merits. It took on a very tough subject with a compassion that today is still not adequately addressed.

 

Miss G

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This first version of Waterloo Bridge was far more realistic than the superlatively romantic take in the 1940 Vivien Leigh-Robert Taylor version of Robert Sherwood's play. I don't think that I could say that I prefer the first over the second since they are so different, but I appreciate the differences in tone, acting and the story more. I like both versions for different reasons.

 

After viewing the '31 James Whale directed movie last night, my primary reaction is that, despite a good career in Hollywood by almost any standard, Mae Clarke should've been a much bigger star, though the decades long career path that she took was remarkable in itself.

 

In James Curtis' bio of James Whale, entitled James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters, the author quotes from his extensive interviews with Clarke, who expressed disappointment that her excellent performance went relatively unnoticed at the time of the film's release despite good reviews. Her acting of the role of Myra was very touching, especially in her scenes with Douglass Montgomery, (here credited as Kent Douglass for some numbskull studio reason), whose impulsive devotion to her touches her and hurts her simultaneously. I thought that one of the most interesting differences between the original and '40 version was the relationship of Myra to her fiance's mother, sympathetically played in '31 version by Enid Bennett. Unlike her counterpart in the Leigh remake, played well as a rather obtuse noblewoman by the estimable Lucile Watson, Miss Bennett's mother knows that the relationship of her very young son to this woman is doomed from the start, and she is neither melodramatically appalled nor entirely comfortable when she learns from Myra of her real profession. Her sympathetic reaction makes Myra's running away from the comfortable household much more understandable. There is an especially touching line, repeated a few times by Myra in her character's interaction with the mother, stating simply and wistfully, as though it was already long in the past, "I could've married him, you know."

 

I was also surprisingly moved by Douglass Montgomery's earnest performance, who could've come across simply as a fool. Instead Montgomery's sincerity and pose of worldliness underlines the poignancy of his attempts to help Mae Clarke's character. In Curtis' bio of James Whale, he mentions that the director almost had to browbeat the young actor and worked with him intensely to evoke the depth of performance that he wanted for the difficult role. Having seen Douglass Montgomery in a few other films, it seems clear that without a strong director such as Whale, he was never able to give as good a performance again.

 

Interestingly, this early talkie didn't seem to be a prisoner of the dreaded microphone, though its interior sets were understandably limited. There were some really interesting shots throughout the film, especially that with the POV from above giving a zeppelin's eye view at the end of the film. There was also a remarkably crude process shot just before the end of the movie supposedly on Waterloo Bridge, which jars one into remembering the technological challenges that film craftsmen were dealing with during that era. As usual with James Whale's movies, he indulges his love of cockney harpies a bit too much for my taste in the characters of the landlady (Ethel Griffies) and Myra's annoying friend and fellow streetwalker (Doris Lloyd).

 

Thanks for bringing this "lost" gem to a showcase this film deserves should go to the Library of Congress archivists and TCM. Could we someday hope for a similar restoration of Whale's breakthrough film about the human toll of WWI, Journey's End (1930)?

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I much prefer the Viv Leigh version. Mae Clarke displayed one emotion the whole movie that of hostility and inner turmoil. The male lead had on so much makeup and played perhaps the stupidest chump in pre code history. Could the lion at the entrance of the bridge say"Your girl is a hooker" instead of "Buy your war bonds"?

I found it very talky and stagey. I just don't think you can beat the scene in the 1940 version where Myra is to have tea with Roy's mother and sees his name in the paper listed among the casualties.

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I typed out a long, enthusiastic post about this '31 version (I found especially touching the young man's devotion, the mother's gentle understanding, and the young woman's self-sacrifice; "I could've married him..." but didn't), then hit the wrong button and lost it, but moira (below) said it all better than I could have... Far superior to the remake, excessive makeup on the leading man aside ('31).

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Moria, excellent review!

 

The film showed that the girl had been a decent honest girl earlier in life, and her refusal to marry Douglass Montgomery was proof of that. That made her a very sympathetic character. The boy's age, only 19, clearly explained why he didn't suspect anything about her past in the beginning.

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?Why did she "confess" to Roy's mother before they had even become engaged? In the remake it makes sense because they are engaged and she feels it's gone too far so she panicks. But in the original she was not committed to him, had only just met the family, and could still just take off without owing any explanations to anyone.?

 

She ?confessed? because she was already falling in love with the guy but she didn?t want it to go any further. Telling the mother would have been just the right thing to do to stop any continued development of the loving romantic relationship and the respect and approval of the family.

 

This technique was to help add to the overall tragedy of the story, to make the audience respect the girl, and to show that she was essentially honest.

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Fred and Otterhere, thanks very much for your kind words. It's great to find such a thought provoking film.

 

Good point about her confession to the mother, Fred. It's almost as though Myra is deliberately taking that irrevocable step in order to prevent herself from pursuing the budding relationship that she longs for, but which her conscience keeps her from fulfilling. She's using the mother as a kind of sounding board for the developing thoughts that she's struggling with throughout this sequence. Interestingly, I also have the impression that the stable, loving home that the soldier brings her into is as powerfully appealing to Myra as the callow boy professing his love for her.

 

One other really interesting sequence, dramatically and technologically that I should've mentioned before:

In the opening moments of the film, we are drawn into the theatre from the balcony, past the boxes, and across the footlights along the row of anonymous, masklike apparently gay (in the original sense of the word), made up faces in the cast and the chorus. We gradually focus on Mae Clarke's detached, somewhat bored and weary expression, complete with a little yawn! I think that this highly mobile shot may have been done silently with a crane and had the sound laid onto the sequence later.

 

Other nice storytelling touches:

The changes seen on the "Chu Chin Chow"* sign to show the passage of time and that poor little white fox that followed Myra throughout the movie.

**********************************************

 

* Chu Chin Chow was a wildly successful musical during WWI which would've been familiar to 1931 audiences by reputation or based on their attendance, since, according to Wikipedia the show:

"Chu Chin Chow [was] a musical comedy written, produced and directed by Oscar Asche, with music by Frederic Norton, based (with minor embelishments) on the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. The piece premiered at His Majesty's Theatre in London on 3 August 1916 and ran for five years and a total of 2,238 performances (more than twice as many as any previous musical), an astonishing record that stood for nearly forty years until Salad Days. The show's American production in New York played for a 208 performances in 1917-1918 and subsequently had successful seasons elsewhere in America and Australia, including in 1920, 1921 and 1922."

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OK, I can see what you're saying now. It makes more sense now. But I have to tell you, a prostitute just would not confess what she is to "outsiders" unless it's for a dreadfully compelling reason (especially to confess to a woman is to risk inviting scorn) and I didn't get that the relationship between Myra and the mother was developed enough. She could have just fled and never talked to them again. In that light I still think the way the remake takes more time with the story is more realistic.

 

Did anyone pick up on the fact that Myra was a very naughty girl from the very start of the film? When one of the chorine's asks her how she got the fur, she winks and says that maybe she told her guy about it. I guess that means Myra originally was supposed to become more sympathetic as her circumstances spiralled downward, creating more of a character arc. In Vivien's Myra, she is sympathetic from the beginning, without ever really deviating from who she was.

 

Interesting discussion!

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Miss G., you're quite realistic point about a prostitute not confessing to an outsider is probably true to life, but I think that for the purposes of the story, I had the impression that Myra (Mae Clarke) was quite disarmed by the mother's frank introduction of the discussion of her involvement with her son during the the tennis match scene. That allowed Robert Sherwood to demonstrate how the atmosphere and character of the mother, her son and family had deeply affected Myra, to the point where, probably for the first time since she'd run away from her East St. Louis home, the girl let her guard down.

 

I actually like the fact that Myra is depicted as a mercenary little gold digger from the first, and we gradually learn to see the wounds that the tough veneer hides throughout most of the movie and to care about her fate over the arc of the movie. I also always thought that a spectacular beauty such as Vivien Leigh, (and I don't care how cheap her clothes looked--she always had a gorgeous face), would've found her way into a cozy, if morally compromised position as a rich guy's kept woman in London. Leigh also looked far too vulnerable physically and emotionally to have lasted long on the streets. The far less beautiful and decidedly un-glossy, good-time-gal, ragamuffin quality that Mae Clarke brought to the role actually underlined the realistic quality and the pathos of the storyline for me.

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