Waterloo Bridge (1940 film)
Original movie poster
|Directed by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Produced by||Sidney Franklin|
|Written by||S. N. Behrman
|Based on||Waterloo Bridge
by Robert E. Sherwood
C. Aubrey Smith
|Music by||Herbert Stothart|
|May 17, 1940|
|Box office||$1,250,000 (Domestic earnings)
$1,217,000 (Foreign earnings)
Waterloo Bridge is a 1940 remake of the 1931 film also called Waterloo Bridge, adapted from the 1930 play Waterloo Bridge. In an extended flashback narration, it recounts the story of a dancer and an army captain who meet by chance on Waterloo Bridge. The film was made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sidney Franklin and Mervyn LeRoy. The screenplay is by S. N. Behrman, Hans Rameau and George Froeschel, based on the Broadway drama by Robert E. Sherwood. The music is by Herbert Stothart and cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg.
Waterloo Bridge stars Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh, her first film after the success of Gone with the Wind. The film was a success at the box office and nominated for two Academy Awards—Best Music for Herbert Stothart and Best Cinematography. It was also considered a personal favourite by both Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor.
After Britain's declaration of World War II, Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor), an army colonel, is being driven to London's Waterloo Station en route to France, and briefly alights on Waterloo Bridge to reminisce about events which occurred during the First World War when he met Myra Lester (Vivien Leigh, a ballerina, whom he had planned to marry. While Roy looks at a good luck charm, a billiken that she had given him, the story unfolds.
Roy and Myra serendipitously meet on Waterloo Bridge and strike up an immediate rapport. On parting, Myra invites Roy to attend that evening’s ballet performance. Roy, already enamoured with the ballerina, cancels his dinner appointment with a fellow officer to attend the ballet. At the show’s end, Roy sends a note to Myra to join him for dinner. The note is intercepted by the directress of the ballet troupe, Madame Olga Kirowa (Maria Ouspenskaya) who forbids Myra from continuing her relationship with Roy. Madame Olga ultimately learns of Myra’s disobedience and dismisses her from the ballet troupe. Myra another dancer, Kitty (Virginia Field), who has sided with her friend is also asked to leave. Both young women then join together, sharing a small apartment, and look for work.
Hours before his planned marriage to Myra, Roy is suddenly deployed to active military duty in France, but assures Myra that his family will look after her and safeguard her welfare while he is away. Subsequently, Myra and Roy’s mother, Lady Margaret Cronin (Virginia Field), arrange to meet at a fashionable restaurant, their first introduction to each other.
Awaiting Lady Cronin’s very belated arrival, Myra scans a newspaper and faints on seeing the name of her fiancé Roy in a list of war dead. Dazed by grief and proffered wine, she relates poorly to Roy’s mother in a session of awkward miscommunication. She is reticent and apprehensive in the presence of the aristocratic, yet kindly Lady Cronin and does not disclose her knowledge of Roy’s reported death. Lady Cronin gracefully retreats, baffled by Myra’s behaviour. Myra, leaving the restaurant, faints again.
Unable to find employment, Kitty and Myra face a dire financial situation. Belatedly, Myra, who believed that Kitty was working as a stage performer, learns her friend has been working as a prostitute to support both of them. Too proud to reach out to Roy’s mother for help, the heartbroken Myra finds it necessary to join her friend Kitty in the same profession. A year passes.
What next transpires is the tragic denouement of love lost, found, and then lost forever. While offering herself to departing and arriving soldiers at Waterloo Station, Myra catches sight of an arriving Roy, who is alive and well; he had been wounded and interned in a POW camp for year. A reconciliation occurs—a joyous one for Roy, a bittersweet one for Myra. The couple visit Roy's mother at their estate in Scotland, where Myra, guilt-ridden, is confronted by the impossibility of a happy marriage to Roy. Her career of prostitution has made her feel she is beyond redemption, unworthy of Roy’s love.
Myra discloses her story to Roy's mother, who is sympathetic, but Myra tells her she cannot do Roy the injustice and then leaves Roy a goodbye note, and goes away "forever", returning to London. Roy follows, and with the aid of Kitty, looks for her, finally discovering the truth in the process. Meanwhile, Myra, depressed, reminiscing on and then traversing Waterloo Bridge, the location where the love affair began, takes her own life by walking into the path of a moving truck.
In the present, the older Roy reminiscinges about Myra professing her sincere love for only him. He tucks the charm into his coat pocket, gets into his car, and leaves.
MGM bought the 1931 version from Universal Studios when they did this remake. From its initial release, the 1931 film had been heavily censored because of official American objections to the portrayal of prostitution. The censorship was imposed first by local authorities, e.g., a Chicago police censorship board and, eventually by the Hays Office which made it impossible to exhibit the film anywhere in the USA from 1934.
"[Prostitution is] a subject that neither our Ordinance nor Commissioner Alcock permits us to leave in pictures whether for an adult or a general permit. It is a clear violation of all our standards and also, we had understood, a violation of the underlying purpose of [the Motion Picture Production] Code.—Chicago police censorship board, 1931
The couple's initial encounter occurs during an air raid in the First World War. But bBecause of the Motion Picture Production Code, which had not been in effect when the 1931 film version was made, the plot of the 1940 version had to be changed and somewhat sanitized. In the original play and film, Myra is an ordinary chorus girl of easy virtue, and Roy is too naive to realize this until near the end. In the 1940 version, Myra is a ballerina in a prestigious dance company, who descends into prostitution only after mistakenly believing that Roy has been killed. In the first film, Myra is accidentally killed; in the 1940 version, she commits suicide in order not to involve Roy in a scandal.
'Waterloo Bridge capitalized on Leigh's success the previous year in Gone with the Wind. Taylor, meanwhile, was eager to show audiences that he was more than the suave and youthful lover he had played in such films as Camille and Three Comrades.
Leigh wanted Laurence Olivier for the role of Roy Cronin, and was unhappy that Taylor had been cast in the part, although she had enjoyed him on the set of A Yank at Oxford. She wrote to then-husband Leigh Holman, "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 later said of his performance, "It was the first time I really gave a performance that met the often unattainable standards I was always setting for myself." Of Leigh, Taylor said, "Miss Leigh was simply great in her role, and she made me look better." Of all her films, Leigh stated this one was her favourite. Taylor also felt this to be his personal favourite.
Waterloo Bridge opened in New York and shortly after in London to positive reviews. "It owed much to the dialogue of Robert E. Sherwood's original play, and to good, shrewd screen directing." [Note 1]
According to MGM records the film earned $1,250,000 in the US and Canada and $1,217,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $491,000.
Waterloo Bridge was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on two broadcasts of The Screen Guild Theater, the first on January 12, 1941 with Brian Aherne and Joan Fontaine and the second on September 9, 1946 with Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. It was also presented as a half-hour broadcast of Screen Directors Playhouse on September 28, 1951 with Norma Shearer.
- In Waterloo Bridge, which was a hit in postwar Japan in 1949, a song titled "Farewell Waltz" is similar to quadruple time "Auld Lang Syne" song but in a different musical time. Later in 1950 when a record was released, the film song in triple time (a waltz) became famous in Japan. The tune is now used in Japan at closing time at department stories to signal to shoppers that is time to go home.
- "The Eddie Mannix Ledger." Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study, Los Angeles.
- Campbell, R. "Prostitution and film censorship in the USA." Latrobe University, Melbourne, December 1997.
- Walker 1987, p. 138.
- Taylor 1984, p. 76.
- Bean 2013, p. 71.
- Capus 2003, p. 71.
- Vickers 1988, p. 123.
- Bean, Kendra. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7624-5099-2.
- Capus, Michelangelo. Vivien Leigh: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7864-1497-0.
- Taylor, John Russell. Vivien Leigh. London: Elm Tree Books, 1984. ISBN 0-241-11333-4.
- Vickers, Hugo. Vivien Leigh: A Biography. London: Little, Brown and Company, 1988 edition. ISBN 978-0-33031-166-3.
- Walker, Alexander. Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh. New York: Grove Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8021-3259-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Waterloo Bridge (1940 film).|
- "One of the most beautiful plays and motion pictures of all time" on Screen Guild Theater: January 12, 1941
- Broadcast featuring Robert Taylor, star of the 1940 film, on Screen Guild Theater: September 9, 1946
- "MGM's screenplay of Robert Sherwood's drama" on Screen Directors Playhouse: September 28, 1951