This sensitive and haunting drama, directed with sympathy for the tawdry subject, features Mae Clarke as a London chorus girl who loses her job at the onset of WW I. Desperation forces her into prostitution. When air raids hit the city, Clarke takes cover under Waterloo Bridge. There she
meets Douglass Montgomery, a Canadian soldier whose furlough has put him in London at the time of the bombing. Montgomery falls in love, not realizing Clarke is a streetwalker, and proposes to her shortly before he is sent off to the war. Clarke returns his affection, and without revealing her
past, accepts his offer. On the weekend before Montgomery leaves, the couple goes to his family home in the country. They are met by his uncle, Frederick Kerr, widowed mother, Enid Bennett, and sister, Bette Davis. Kerr is a former army man himself who has now retired from the service. Davis, a
simple and contented young woman, is delighted to meet her brother's fiancee, but Clarke is torn by conflicting emotions. When Montgomery goes back to join his fellow soldiers, Clarke has a heart-to-heart conversation with Bennett, confessing her streetwalking days. Clarke goes back to London,
where she takes to the streets once again. During another air raid, Clarke once more finds herself near Waterloo Bridge. This time she does not take cover and is killed in the bombing.
James Whale handles this delicate material with compassion. This was his first film for Universal (he was to follow it three months later with FRANKENSTEIN, 1931), and he fills the story with small moments, letting the drama flow naturally and letting its inherent emotional momentum build to the
tragic ending. The director's background was in theater, but with WATERLOO BRIDGE Whale shows his growing command of the film medium. His camera movements, unlike those in other films of the era, are numerous and fluid, and he makes some interesting use of overhead shots. The cinematography, by
Joseph Ruttenberg, was nominated for an Oscar, as was the score by Herbert Stothart. Whale made some forays into off-screen sound, which, while now commonplace, was considered revolutionary in 1931. Clarke is marvelous in the lead role, creating a sympathetic character whose situations drive her
to desperate measures. Some parts of the story walk that fine line between good drama and soap opera, and her performance gives the script's intelligent aspects the needed edge. Clarke, a contract player at Universal who was given a chance by Whale with this picture, admired the director and his
working methods. Robert E. Sherwood, whose original play served as a basis for the story, was highly impressed with her performance and autographed a photograph for the actress with the inscription: "For Mae Clarke--who did right by WATERLOO BRIDGE." This was Davis' last film for Universal before
going to Warner Bros. Though her role is minor, Davis gives a good performance that shows the promise of what was to come. Davis later commented that she yearned all during the shooting of the film to play Myra (Whitney Stine, Mother Goddam, New York, 1974). The production took a brief 26 days to
film, and Whale brought the film in under budget, knocking off $25,000 from the original $252,000 budget projection. For many years WATERLOO BRIDGE was unavailable for screening, and it appeared the film had been lost forever. Then in 1977, a print of the missing work was found hidden amidst the
wealth of material stored in the MGM vaults. The film was remade twice, first in 1940 with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, then in 1956 (under the title GABY) with Leslie Caron and John Kerr.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This sensitive and haunting drama, directed with sympathy for the tawdry subject, features Mae Clarke as a London chorus girl who loses her job at the onset of WW I. Desperation forces her into prostitution. When air raids hit the city, Clarke takes cover… (more)