I’ve just been watching a DVD of the 1931 film version of Waterloo Bridge, directed by James Whale a year after he made Journey’s End. It’s adapted from a play by Robert E. Sherwood; I don’t know how faithful it is, but there are long stretches of slightly stagey dialogue.
It’s the story of Myra, a chorus girl turned prostitute, who picks up soldiers on Waterloo Bridge during the war. One evening there is an air raid; she meets Roy, a Canadian soldier who falls for her without realising what business she’s in.
He takes her home to his posh family, but she can’t bear to deceive him, and it becomes one of those stories where each character is trying to outdo the other in nobility.
The film is not entirely plausible, but it’s well done, especially by Mae Clark as Myra. I found the representation of the soldier interesting. He joined up through being idealistic; his comments show that his initial enthusiasm has met a grimmer reality than he expected, but his determination has not wavered. With the girl, however, he still has an uncorrupted naivety. There is never a suggestion that his intentions are anything but honourable. War has not corrupted him. In fact there is a suggestion that war means love must be more intense and less hidebound by convention. Here, in the late twenties/early thirties is a hit play and film showing war as the catalyst for love.
The DVD is part of a box set called Forbidden Hollywood. This contains three films made between the coming of sound and the strict enforcement of the Hays code. Those three or four years were a brief golden age when Hollywood could deal with sensitive subject-matter like prostitution without being shackled by undue censorship. The other DVDs in the box are Red-Headed Woman (Jean Harlow terrific as a good-time girl on the make) and Baby Face, whichI haven’t watched yet.