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 American drama 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 favorite 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) whom he had planned to marry. While Roy gazes at a good luck charm, a billiken that she had given him, the story unfolds.
Roy, a captain in the Rendleshire Fusiliers on his way to the front, and Myra, a ballerina, serendipitously meet crossing Waterloo Bridge during an air raid, striking up an immediate rapport while taking shelter. Myra invites Roy to attend that evening’s ballet performance and an enamored Roy ignores an obligatory dinner with his colonel to do so. Roy sends a note to Myra to join him after the performance, but the note is intercepted by the mistress of the ballet troupe, the tyrannical Madame Olga (Maria Ouspenskaya), who forbids Myra from having any relationship with Roy. They meet anyway at a romantic night spot. Roy has to go to the front immediately and proposes marriage but wartime circumstances thwart them from marrying immediately. Roy assures Myra that his family will look after her while he is away. Madame Olga learns of Myra’s disobedience and dismisses her from the troupe along with fellow dancer Kitty (Virginia Field) when she scolds madame for spoiling Myra's happiness.
The young women share a small flat and look for work. Myra and Roy’s mother, Lady Margaret Cronin (Lucile Watson), arrange to meet, their first introduction to each other. Awaiting Lady Margaret’s belated arrival at a team room, Myra scans a newspaper and faints on finding Roy listed among the war dead. Unhappily, the dazed Myra is taking a long drink of wine just as Lady Margaret appears. Unable to disclose the dreadful news, her banal and incoherent conversation shocks her prospective mother-in-law, who withdraws without seeking an explanation. Myra falls ill with grief and to cover all their expenses, Kitty becomes a streetwalker. Belatedly, Myra, who believed that Kitty was working as a stage performer, learns what her friend has done. Feeling that she has alienated Lady Margaret and having no desire to live, the heartbroken Myra joins her friend Kitty as a prostitute to support them both. A year passes.
While offering herself to soldiers on leave arriving at Waterloo Station, Myra catches sight of Roy, who is alive and well; he had been wounded and held as a prisoner of war. A reconciliation occurs—a joyous one for Roy, a bittersweet one for Myra. The couple travels to the family estate in Scotland to visit Lady Margaret, who deduces the misunderstanding that occurred at the tea room. Myra is also accepted by Roy's uncle, the Duke (C. Aubrey Smith), but he inadvertently feeds her guilt with assertions that she would never bring shame to the family. Confronted by the impossibility of a happy marriage, breaking off the engagement seems her only choice. Myra discloses the truth to a compassionate Lady Margaret but is unable to believe herself worthy of marrying Roy. Myra leaves behind a goodbye note and returns to London. Roy follows, and with the aid of Kitty, looks for her despite discovering the truth in the process. Myra, depressed and returning to the Waterloo Bridge, takes her own life by walking into the path of a moving truck.
In the present, the older Roy reminisces about Myra's sincere final profession of love only for 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 censored in major American cities because of official objections to the portrayal of prostitution. The censorship was imposed first by local authorities, e.g., a Chicago police censorship board, before enforcement by the Hays Office in 1934 made it impossible to exhibit the film anywhere in the USA.
"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
Because of the Motion Picture Production Code, which had not been in effect when the 1931 film version was made, plot details of the 1940 version were significantly changed and somewhat sanitized. In the original play and film, based on Sherwood's personal experiences, both characters are Americans, Myra an out-of-work chorus girl who has turned to prostitution and Roy a callow 19-year-old expatriate who does not realize what she is. In the 1940 version both are British, Myra a promising ballerina in a prestigious dance company who becomes a prostitute only after believing that her sweetheart has been killed, and Roy a mature officer of Scottish nobility. In the original film, Myra is accidentally and ironically killed after her situation with Roy has apparently been happily resolved; in the 1940 version, she commits suicide when her inner conflict becomes insoluble. The flashback format of the later version was a device added in acknowledgement of the recent onset of war when the script was written in 1939.
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 favorite. Taylor also felt this to be his personal favorite.
Ethel Griffies and Rita Carlisle (then (Carlyle), cast respectively in the 1931 film as Myra's landlady and a woman on the bridge when they meet, appear in the 1940 version in similar roles.
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