Cast & Crew
In pre-war London, an American musical production ends on New Year's Eve, and chorus girl Myra Deauville is gifted with a fox stole from her current boyfriend. After another musical closes, Myra is unable to find work and, after two years, is forced into prostitution in order to survive. At the height of World War I, Myra meets her clientele on Waterloo Bridge, entry point for soldiers on leave. One evening, during a zeppelin air raid, Myra encounters an old woman who has dropped her basket of potatoes while trying to find shelter. Despite the bomb blasts, Myra helps her find the potatoes, and they are assisted by Roy Cronin, a young American soldier who has joined the Royal Canadian forces and is on leave from the battlefields in France. The three take shelter together, and when the "all-clear" is sounded, the old woman continues on her way, while Roy takes Myra by taxi to her apartment. The two Americans take a liking to each other, and Myra invites Roy inside. They lapse into a friendly camaraderie, and Myra learns that Roy's stepfather is English and that he and his mother Mary and sister Janet live in the country nearby. Although she is not looking for sympathy, Myra relates her hard luck story, but reveals only that she is a chorus girl. Feeling he has an embarrassment of riches, Roy makes a sincere offer to pay her overdue rent to her landlady, Mrs. Hobley, and buy her a pink dress that she has been longing for. Myra at first accepts the gift, but she quickly becomes cynical and takes offense, accusing him of trying to reform her. Roy's feelings are hurt and he starts to leave, but Myra regrets her harsh words and calls him back. After Roy apologizes, they return to their conversation and Roy invites Myra to visit his family in the country the next day. Myra declines, and as it is late, Roy leaves, after which Myra dons makeup, perfume and hat, and goes to work. By morning, Myra still has not returned, but Mrs. Hobley lets Roy into her apartment, where he is surprised by a visit from Kitty, Myra's friend and neighbor. When Roy confides that he is concerned about Myra's welfare, Kitty slyly advises him that Myra needs someone who will protect and marry her. Kitty leaves when Myra returns, and Roy, who has fallen in love with her, has brought her flowers and the pink dress. Roy confesses his love to Myra, but she rejects him, claiming her poor upbringing with alcoholic parents in a slum in St. Louis prevents her from accepting his affections. Roy's love remains unchanged, however, and when she reveals that she, too, loves him, he swears to return after his visit with his family. Myra later reprimands Kitty for interfering, and is repelled by Kitty's insistence that even if she does not love Roy, marriage to him is an opportunity for a better life. Roy informs his family of his new love and receives their permission to bring Myra for a visit. When he returns to the city, he pretends he is only taking Myra for a ride, but, unknown to her, he takes her to his family property, where he proposes. As Myra is refusing, she is surprised by the appearance of Roy's family, who insist she stay with them. That afternoon, Mary speaks to Myra in private and asks her not to marry Roy because they have such different lives. In the evening, Myra is plagued by the guilt of her secret and confesses it to Mary. Mary is not shocked and kindly tells Myra that she still has a good opinion of her, although it is evident that she must not marry Roy. In the morning, Myra leaves without saying goodbye and takes a return train to London. Back on Waterloo Bridge, she is picked up by an English soldier, but rejects him at the last minute. Regretting this decision, she continues to work that night and is able to pay Mrs. Hobley one week's rent the next morning. She is surprised by a visit from Roy, who wants an explanation of her mysterious departure. Myra becomes hysterical because she is unable to reconcile her love for Roy and her defiled status as a woman. Exhausted, she finally gives in to Roy's proposal, and because he is leaving that day, he insists they marry immediately. He waits in the stairwell while she dresses, but when he reenters the apartment, he discovers she has left through the window. Mrs. Hobley comes in and, angry that Myra has skipped out on the rent, reveals Myra's true profession. Roy is shocked, but is equally repelled by Mrs. Hobley herself, and pays Myra's back rent and more, after which they find a note from Myra reading, "I can't do it. Goodbye." Distraught, Roy searches London for Myra, and eventually finds her huddled on a bench on Waterloo Bridge. He gives her money to keep her going, and insists that, having learned the whole truth from Mrs. Hobley, he still loves her and wants to marry her. When a truck of departing soldiers pulls up, a military policeman insists Roy join them or be considered a deserter. Roy refuses to leave until Myra promises to marry him and, after receiving her word, kisses her passionately before jumping onto the truck. Myra is left alone on the bridge as an air raid starts, and as she runs for shelter, she is killed by an exploding bomb. A crowd gathers round her body.
Waterloo Bridge (1931)
Sherwood's play had been based on an incident in his own life. He had joined the Canadian forces during the war, and during a London air raid in 1918, he had met an American chorus girl turned streetwalker. The meeting was brief, but he never forgot her, or his experiences in wartime London. The play had been talky and not very well developed. It received poor reviews, and closed after 64 performances. Universal Studios, however, was looking for prestige projects. Carl Laemmle, Jr., the son of the studio's founder, had been put in charge of production in 1929, and initiated a new policy emphasizing "quality" films. The success of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) confirmed the wisdom of this course, and in early 1931, Laemmle bought the rights to Waterloo Bridge.
Laemmle didn't have any director under contract that he felt could do justice to Waterloo Bridge. But he had seen the film version of another play with a wartime setting and theme, Journey's End (1930), the first film directed by James Whale, who had directed the play in London and New York. Laemmle hired Whale and gave him a first draft of the screenplay of Waterloo Bridge, which had "opened up" the intimacy of the play, inserting bombing scenes and turning it into a war movie. Whale was appalled, and insisted on a new screenwriter. Benn Levy returned the story to a character drama, adding scenes that cinematically showed Myra's descent into prostitution, as well as scenes with Roy's family in the country. The studio was having severe financial problems, however, and Laemmle gave Whale a minuscule $252,000 budget and a 26-day shooting schedule.
Universal contract player Rose Hobart had been assigned to play Myra, and was looking forward to it. But when she found out that the studio was not planning to renew her contract, she refused to do the film. (She later admitted she regretted that decision.) Whale chose Mae Clarke, then under contract at Columbia, to replace Hobart. "I think Whale saw something I know I had then," Clarke later recalled, "and that was a basic confusion and insecurity I didn't mind projecting into my work." Since Clarke had recently gained fame playing the moll who has half a grapefruit shoved in her face by James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931), Laemmle agreed to the casting. Clarke found Whale's direction collaborative and sensitive. "He wanted to see what you thought of it," she said. "He wouldn't say how to do it, he would tell you what was happening."
Co-star Kent Douglass was another matter. (Douglass, whose real name was Robert Douglass Montgomery, had changed his name when he was signed to a contract at MGM to avoid confusion with Robert Montgomery. He would soon change it again to Douglass Montgomery.) Although the blond, strapping Canadian-born Douglass was physically right for the role, he was awkward and inexperienced as a film actor. In spite of the tight shooting schedule, Whale shut down production for three days while he worked with Douglass. Another Universal contract player had a small role in Waterloo Bridge as Douglass' sister. It was Bette Davis' third and final film at Universal before leaving to join Warner Bros., and her role was so inconsequential that it didn't rate a single mention in any review. The ambitious young Davis longed to play Myra instead, "and I could have!" she later told a biographer.
Whale finished Waterloo Bridge almost $50,000 under budget. Laemmle was so impressed with the results that he invited Hollywood Reporter editor Billy Wilkerson to screen a work print, just days after production ended. Wilkerson's review was a rave. "It is grown up entertainment, not sophisticated, but mature...so moving and believable as to send any audience out talking and raving in appreciation," he wrote. Other critics agreed, and so did playwright Robert Sherwood, who felt the film had improved on his play. He had visited the set during production, and had his picture taken with Clarke and Whale. On a copy of the photograph he signed for Clarke, he wrote, "for Mae Clarke, who did right by Waterloo Bridge." But in spite of the good reviews, the subject matter proved too controversial for some audiences. Censor boards in Chicago, New York, and Pennsylvania demanded extensive cuts in the film. In England, in spite of extensive cuts by the censors, the film was a big hit. But once the Production Code Administration was established in the U.S. in 1934, it became impossible to re-release Waterloo Bridge.
Laemmle was so happy with the film that he gave his new director the choice of any property that the studio was planning. Whale chose Frankenstein (1931), which became a huge hit, and for the next several years, he was one of the studio's top directors. But Universal's financial problems overwhelmed the Laemmles, and after Whale left the studio in 1940, his career just seemed to fade away. Clarke worked with Whale in Frankenstein, but the role was thankless. Although she worked consistently through the 1930s and sporadically after that, she never again had a part as challenging and riveting as Myra in Waterloo Bridge.
In 1939, MGM bought the rights to Waterloo Bridge, and received the negative of the 1931 version. MGM made its own glamorized and sanitized version in 1940, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (a 1956 remake, Gaby, starred Leslie Caron), but the original remained hidden away and forgotten in the MGM vaults for 35 years. It was re-discovered in 1975, but a joint ownership agreement between MGM and Universal prevented it from being widely seen until the mid-1990s.
Director: James Whale
Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay: Benn W. Levy, Tom Reed (based on the play by Robert E. Sherwood)
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Clarence Kolster, James Whale
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Music: Val Burton
Cast: Mae Clarke (Myra Deauville), Kent Douglass (Roy Cronin), Doris Lloyd (Kitty), Ethel Griffies (Mrs. Hobley), Enid Bennett (Mrs. Wetherby), Frederick Kerr (Mr. Wetherby), Bette Davis (Janet).
by Margarita Landazuri
Waterloo Bridge (1931)
Waterloo Bridge (1931) - The Pre-Code 1931 Version of WATERLOO BRIDGE on DVD
The best way to see it on DVD would have been as a double bill with the 1940 remake (which, sadly, is still not available on DVD), but its packaging with two other delicious pre-Code movies (Baby Face and Red-Headed Woman) is definitely the next best option. That said, Waterloo Bridge is the least shocking of the three, and in fact it's not particularly bold or daring even without the comparison to those two racy pre-Code productions. Sure, it pushes some boundaries for its time with its depiction of prostitution, but it doesn't ooze sex or sleaze as overtly as Baby Face or, say, any number of Warren William starrers of the same period.
As good a movie as it is, this first version of Robert Sherwood's play does suffer a bit from "early talkie" syndrome, with a theatrical feel throughout that comes both from director James Whale's staging and from overdone acting styles - though Mae Clarke still delivers a very strong performance. The glossy look of the 1940 remake, one of the all-time great tearjerkers, is not to be found here. While the remake greatly re-works Sherwood's story into a romantic weepie, Whale's film doesn't try for such an effect, instead keeping to the grittiness of the play.
And so we find Mae Clarke as Myra, an American chorus girl in WWI London who turns to prostitution to pay her bills. She meets Roy (Kent Douglass, later known as Douglass Montgomery), a Canadian soldier on furlough, who promptly falls in love with her, too young and naïve to figure out the truth. He takes her to visit his rich relatives in the countryside, with whom Myra obviously does not fit in. (Bette Davis, in her third film role, plays Roy's sister Janet. She doesn't have much to do but you can't take your eyes off of her.) Myra throws Roy out cruelly, then takes him back - twice. Roy proposes, and Myra refuses, and on the film goes in showing the push-pull of Roy's love and Myra's internal conflict. Our focus is certainly kept on that internal struggle, as Myra loves Roy but tries not to let herself feel it because of her shame. Clarke's performance is affecting, and she uses the sexual frankness of the material to her advantage. Whale also works in some nice moments like Clarke's yawn during an opening stage number and a funny sequence where, in the country estate, she is asked by the family maid if she wants her morning bath drawn cold. "No, hot!" says Clarke with a delighted laugh. "Oh," replies the maid disapprovingly with an upward turn of the nose.
Mae Clarke will probably always be best remembered as the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her face by James Cagney in Public Enemy (1931), but Waterloo Bridge, with possibly her best performance now available for viewing, shows how unfair that assessment is. The girl could act. Kent Douglass is wooden and awkward by comparison. Their final scene together on Waterloo Bridge, however, is unexpectedly touching and tender.
The transferred print has not been restored. There are scratches throughout, and the overall picture quality is far from perfect. Also the sound seems muffled, and you'll have to turn the volume up quite a bit more than normal to get it to an acceptable level. But since we should be thankful to have the chance to see this movie at all, these flaws aren't too bad.
Packaging looks good, though the studio made one noticeable boo-boo. The artwork on the case and the DVDs themselves indicates that Waterloo Bridge and Red-Headed Woman are on Disc 1, and that Baby Face is on Disc 2. It's actually the other way around!
For the record, this collection of three films is presented by Warner Home Video in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies (the packaging carries a "TCM ARCHIVES" label) and is called Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 1. Let's hope these volumes of pre-Code movies keep coming steadily.
For more information about Waterloo Bridge, visit Warner Video. To order Waterloo Bridge (which is only available as part of the Forbidden Hollywood DVD set), go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Waterloo Bridge (1931) - The Pre-Code 1931 Version of WATERLOO BRIDGE on DVD
Universal production files at the USC Cinema-Television Library provide the following information about the production: The film came in just under budget at $251,289.70. Retakes, as well as the theater sequences, were filmed in July 1931. The exterior of the Wetherby home was filmed in Pasadena, CA. Modern sources add the following information about the production: Sherwood's play was inspired by a real-life incident in which Sherwood met an American prostitute in London, who had gone to England with an American musical troupe and become stuck there. Director James Whale was contractually obligated to Tiffany Productions prior to this production, and he sued Tiffany for back wages in order to be released. Tiffany and Whale settled out of court, and he was contracted by Universal. Waterloo Bridge was the first film he made with the studio. Rose Hobart was originally considered for the lead role. The film had its premiere in Los Angeles in early September 1931. Other films based on the same source are M-G-M's 1940 Waterloo Bridge, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (see below), and M-G-M's 1956 Gaby, directed by Curtis Bernhardt and starring Leslie Caron and John Kerr. The 1956 version was the only one of the three films to have a "happy" ending in which the main characters reunite.
Released in United States 1931
Released in United States March 1980
Released in United States 1931
Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures From Eastman House) March 4-21, 1980.)
Robert Sherwood's play had previously been filmed in 1931 by director James Whale, with Mae Clarke in the leading role.
Broadcast over TNT (colorized version) August 19, 1990.