Waterloo Bridge

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.



  1. Maylin
    Posted June 6, 2008 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Babyface is good – you’ll enjoy that one. Have you seen the later 1940 version of Waterloo Bridge with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor? It starts as the older Taylor is off to WWII and as he stops on the bridge he morphs back into the WWI soldier. It’s more sentimental but Vivien Leigh is just so gorgeous and tragic in the role that I probably prefer this version.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted June 6, 2008 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    I once caught part of the 1940 version on television. It’s much less frank than the 1931 version, isn’t it? With the girl not a prostitute at the start, and only becoming one when in despair at her lover’s death? The 1931 version faces the issues more squarely.
    According to the imdb, there is also a 1956 version called “Gaby” that waters the story down even more. See:

    There is even a 1962 Turkish version – “Sonbahar yapraklari”. I wonder what that’s like.

  3. Posted June 14, 2008 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Having now watched Babyface, I can only say that Maylin is right. The film is a joy. It is the story of Lily, a girl who ruthlessly sleeps her way to the top, ruthlessly discarding former lovers when they are no longer of use.
    “Forbidden Hollywood” includes two versions. I watched the recently rediscovered uncut version. Some day I’ll take a look at the other one, the movie as it reached the cinemas in 1933, but I gather it leaves out the philosophical underpinning of the film.
    In the original, Lily is set on her way by an elderly cobbler who shows her passages of Nietsche arguing that a person should exert his or her will at the expense of others, without sentimentality. Lily takes this advice, and men fall like skittles (even John Wayne in an early bit-part).
    Fictional conventions demand that she is shown the limitations of this philosophy at the end, but she doesn’t half have a good time on the way.
    For my own part, I think that Jeeves got it right, as usual.In Carry on Jeeves, he tells Bertie Wooster: “You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”

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