Directed By: Mervyn Le Roy
Starring: Vivian Leigh, Robert Taylor, Virginia Field, Lucile Watson, C. Aubrey Smith, Maria Ouspenskaya
The 1940 film adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's play Waterloo Bridge stars Vivian Leigh as Myra, a ballerina who is smitten by Scottish Officer Roy Cronin (Taylor) after meeting near the titular London Bridge during a World War I air raid. A whirlwind courtship leads to an engagement as well as the end of Myra's employment with the dance company run by strict ballet mistress Madame Olga (Ouspenskaya). When Roy is called back to duty, Myra dutifully waits for his return until she stumbles across a listing in the paper indicating that he was killed in action. Unemployed and near penniless, a desperate Mayra and her flatmate, Kitty (Field), turn to prostitution. When she learns months later that Roy is alive (a fact that is no secret to the viewer since the story is told in flashback from an elderly Roy), Myra wonders if she still has a chance for happiness with the man she loves.
The second filmed adaptation of Waterloo Bridge suffers a bit from being made under the (somewhat bent) rules of the Motion Picture Production Code, but still manages to tell its story in an atypically frank manner for films of its era. While the James Whale version benefitted from being able to address its subject directly as well as a fantastic performance from Mae Clark, this Mervyn Le Roy production more than holds its own, and handles the ending a bit better both by framing it as a flashback story and by orchestrating the fateful sequence at the film's climax in a suspenseful way that gives you insight to the heroine's psyche.
LeRoy is helped along by excellent performances in the lead roles by Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh. After having reviewed Taylor's stiff performance in the Le Roy directed Quo Vadis a few months ago, I was beginning to question how he managed such a long career as a leading man and whether my memories of his other performances were inaccurately rosy. As it turns out, he was just flat out better in this film whether due to his suitability for the role or his personal investment in the work. The fact that his character comes from a Scottish family and yet Taylor does not even attempt a Scottish accent is initially puzzling, but probably for the best. Leigh, coming off of an Oscar win for a performance anchoring Hollywood's epic of epics, Gone with the Wind was looking at a tough act to follow, but proves more than up to the challenge and gives what she later expressed to be her favorite on-screen performance. I happen to agree and found her much more engaging here than her more "affected" characters in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire.
The film falls short of perfection by erring on the side of overselling the initial romance in its first act. While it is important to establish the connection between the characters in order for the subsequent melodrama to have impact, Le Roy lets some of these courtship sequences drag on interminably. Once obstacles start being placed in the path of the young lovers, the film begins to move along on greased rails and everything works as intended to deliver a first-rate multi-hanky weeper.
The 4:3 black and white video presentation is a very good representation of what appears to be an element at least a couple of generations down from the original negative. The element used for transfer has medium grain with some noticeable wear and tear. There is a small amount of contrast build-up, but overall it presents a pleasing range of greyscale. Compression artifacts are minor and edge ringing is minimal to non-existent.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 English tracks presents the sound with minimal background noise and good fidelity for a film of its era. A second Dolby Digital 1.0 track presents a French Dub.
The only extra is the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:20) presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound. It begins with lots of music and contains promotional text lauding Vivien Leigh's "...Greatest Role Since Gone with the Wind", which is not much of a statement given, as the theatrical poster reproduced for the disc's cover points out, it is, "Her First Picture Since Gone with the Wind". Interestingly, the trailer contains an alternate line of dialog from Virginia Field as Kitty, saying "I wouldn't" in response to Myra's declaration that she intends to tell Roy about her past.
The film is presented in a standard Amaray case with no insert. The cover image is derived from original promotional art for the film.
Mervyn Le Roy's superior melodrama, Waterloo Bridge does not quite surpass the James Whale production from 1931, but it is very good in its own right and arguably features career-best performances from Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. It is presented on disc with very good audio and video quality and only a trailer as an extra.