Monday, August 17, 2015

Compare and Contrast: Waterloo Bridge

Tomorrow is Vivien Leigh's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and one of the movies they're presenting is 1940's Waterloo Bridge, at 10:00 AM. Leigh plays a ballerina at the beginning of World War I who meets a British Army officer (Robert Taylor), stays out with him, and loses her job for breaking curfew. And then she hears that he's missing in action, which leads our former ballerina to turn to prostitution, or at least as close to prostitution as MGM could show us during the Production Code.

However, this isn't the first film version of Waterloo Bridge, and it's based on a stage play anyhow. The first movie version was done back in 1931, starring Mae Clarke (she of getting hit in the face by James Cagney's grapefruit in The Public Enemy) in the lead. And just by chance, Mae Clarke happens to be Thursday's star, with her version of Waterloo Bridge showing up at 8:00 PM.

I think I prefer the earlier version. It was done before Joseph Breen started enforcing the code, so the prostitution can be made somewhat more explicit. Mae Clark also wasn't quite the known quantity that Leigh was by the time she made Waterloo Bridge, which came after Gone With the Wind. As such, the earlier version is able to have the lead start off a bit lower on the social ladder, playing an American chorus girl in a failed London show as opposed to a ballerina. It's not just the casting of Vivien Leigh, though; it's the studios that made the two versions. The earlier Waterloo Bridge was done at Universal, which was a less prestigious studio in the early 1930s. The 1940 version was, as I mentioned, done at MGM, which had glitz even in most of movies about the gritty side of life.

The 1931 version also has some noteworthy people working on it. It was directed by James Whale the same year he did Frankenstein, and has, as the sister of the army officer, a young Bette Davis before she signed her Warner Bros. contract and well before Of Human Bondage made her a star.

But as always, watch and judge for yourselves.

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