Waterloo Bridge, 1931. 9/10

Based on a Robert Sherwood play, Waterloo Bridge stars Mae Clarke and Douglass Montgomery. This is the earlier of two movie versions, the latter from 1940 with Vivien Leigh and Robert Montgomery. The Montgomery here is American soldier (in Canadian service) Roy Cronin, on leave in England during WWI. He meets Myra (Clarke), a chorus girl in London. Eventually he takes her to meet his family: his stepfather Major Weatherby (Frederick Kerr), mom (Enid Bennett), and sister Janet (an early Bette Davis role).

On Waterloo Bridge itself, Myra gets caught up in a Zeppelin raid (compared to the ordeal of WWII, that danger almost sounds quaint). Her and another woman are helped by a soldier (Roy) to a shelter. They go back to her place between raids. Mrs. Hubley (Ethel Griffies) comes to collect the rent; but Roy gets her on her way. As you might expect, Roy wants to “square things up” for Myra. She’s offended however, as he lets on that he knows she’s sort of low-rent.

They make up quickly (otherwise that would ruin the plot). She has no one “to knit socks for.” So he’s n-line for a promotion to boyfriend status. He invites her to meet his family in the country, but Myra’s gotta look for a job. So, feeling somewhat stymied, and just to let her know how much he likes her, he gets her an enormous bouquet. Kitty (Doris Lloyd) looks in on him. She’s a bit bloozy; but pretty decent. She’s trying to encourage him with Myra.

Myra pops in. “I don’t wancha to give me anything!” He intuits that she’s pretty much destitute; also, he confesses he loves her. She admits that her family was “a bunch of drunken sots.” Then she lets on that she’s never been in love. Which is somewhat of a relief to Roy, so he adds “I’m not going to regret this ever.” Right after he leaves, she goes to see Kitty; that matchmaker basically figures that Myra is looking to marry. But Kitty puts it so crudely–that it’s a good bet to marry a soldier: since so many die at the front the spouse can cash in on the poor guy’s pension.

Anyway, at the family estate, he tells them about Myra and that he wants to bring her over. That accomplished, Roy manuvers her out of town in an elegant French touring car. Unsuspecting, she ends up at the estate. By a garden pool, Roy proposes to her. His “I could make you happy” almost makes her cave in, but just then the family shows up. He covers his tracks pretty well at having tricked her. The Major and family are very kind to her, and she’s made to feel very comfortable. (Kerr’s performance as the muddled-headed mostly-deaf British officer is so amusing it’s believable).

His mom has a couple of chats with her; Myra admits she’s not so much a chorus girl after all, but actually a street-walker. Amazingly, mom isn’t put off, and effectively accepts her into the family. Soon, Myra’s back in London, but at loose ends.. Unfortunately, back to her old ways. But she has second thoughts; at the same time, she’s avoiding Roy. Cunningly, Roy sneaks in with the news that he’s being sent back to the front.

By now, though, she’s having a fit–trying to get rid of him, mocking him, and so on. But, as you’d expect, she calms down. He’s probably more afraid of what’s going to happen with her, reather than what will happen to him at the front. It’s a long, touching scene, well-done. The outcome is that she (finally?) agrees to marry him, on the spot–before his train leaves. But she bugs out. Meanwhile the landlady lets on about her ‘history’; undeterred, he pays Myra’s back rent.

“There’s always Waterloo Bridge” the landlady offers, as to Myra’s whereabouts. At least she left a cryptic note. Returning to his unit, there’s another raid. And sure enough, the nearly-happy couple meet up on Waterloo Bridge. After more tearful dithering, she at last agrees to marry him. He leaves with the other soldiers. She lingers, and gets killed by a zeppelin bomb. That’s it.

I was surprised at the abrupt ending; not the manner of it, but how it prevented any resolution. For example, I’d rather see Roy’s number coming up at the front–say, just as he’s made arrangements for the forthcoming wedding. Or, in a slightly less abrupt way, Myra could have been blithely making wedding plans, then she gets a telegram from France announcing Roy’s death. Maybe, more prosaically, she never commits herself (it takes forever as it is) because she reverts to street-walking. Another odd thing is how no one who’s important, especially Roy’s mom, objects to her past.

Those things said, though, Waterloo Bridge is a well-realized charming love story. The performances were convincing all around (it’s refreshing to see Davis as a ‘good-guy’), the pacing works well; it’s all of a piece. Ye Olde Yeoman Mouse (Farmermouse’s distant cousin) gives this nine zeppelins. 9/10.

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