Tragic love story still touches the heart in “Waterloo Bridge”
Updated: Mar 27, 2021
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
After the success of “Gone with the Wind” (1939), British actress Vivien Leigh was given top billing as Myra Lester a ballerina, over 29-year-old Robert Taylor considered one of MGM’s top male stars. Taylor plays British officer Captain Roy Cronin of the Rendleshire Fusiliers.
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“WATERLOO BRIDGE: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION”
Blu-ray, 1940, unrated
Best extra: Only extra is the audio of “Screen Director’s Playhouse Radio Theater Broadcast” recorded in 1951.
A CLASSIC melodrama of doomed love, starring screen legends Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, “Waterloo Bridge” is set in London during World War I. Myra (Leigh), a beautiful ballet dancer, meets Roy (Taylor), a dashing army captain on leave during an air raid. As they part, thinking she’ll never see him again, Myra gives Roy her good luck charm to carry with him back to France. As it turns out, Roy’s leave is extended, and he and Myra begin a passionate love affair.
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (one of the five uncredited directors of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mister Roberts”), the film won two Academy Awards (for music and cinematography) and was reported to have been both Leigh’s and Taylor’s favorite performance of their careers. It was based on a 1930 play by Robert Sherwood, and an earlier film version came out in 1931.
The opening scene shows a gray-haired Roy gazing wistfully at Myra’s good luck charm while standing on Waterloo Bridge. Flashbacks illustrate the course of Roy’s relationship with Myra, which had transformed her life as a struggling dancer into a kind of fairy tale — culminating in Roy’s marriage proposal. But right before they can officially tie the knot, Roy is called back to the front.
(1) The MGM production was released on May 17, 1940, just two months before Nazi Germany started its large-scale air attack against the United Kingdom. (2&3) The film opens during the eve of World War II with gray-haired Colonel Cronin standing on Waterloo Bridge. The story flashes back to World War I when he meets Myra on the bridge during an air-raid and the good luck charm she gave him.
Myra eventually reads in the newspaper that Roy is missing in action and, not having heard from him, she assumes he’s dead. By then, Myra had been fired from the ballet company by its fearsome director (Maria Ouspenskaya) for missing a rehearsal the night she saw Roy off at the train station. The grieving Myra and her flatmate, Kitty (Virginia Field) are both out of work and near starvation. When Kitty is inexplicably able to afford to buy food, Myra discovers her friend has been earning money as a prostitute. Myra’s desperation soon leads her there as well. One night at Waterloo Station, where she routinely goes to find “customers,” Myra sees Roy, very much alive. He explains he’d just been released from a POW camp and, after a joyous reunion, the two resume their romance and their plans. And that’s when they should live happily ever after, right? But remember that first scene.
Taylor and Leigh are utterly lovable as Roy and Myra, despite Taylor sounding 100% American when he’s supposed to be a Scotsman — and the sets, costumes and hairdos in the flashbacks looking more like 1940 than the first World War. “Waterloo Bridge,” as heartfelt as it is sentimental, unsurprisingly remains a beloved tragic romance.
(1-3) Roy makes a surprise visit to the Olympic Theater to see Myra a member of the Olga Kirowa International Ballet. (4&5) After the performance, she and Roy have dinner at the Candlelight Club and quickly develop deep feelings for each other.
This Warner Bros. Archive Collection Blu-ray looks wonderful in all its black and white glory, sourced from a new 4K scan (1.37:1 aspect ratio) of the best 35mm film elements possible. The contrast is excellent, as are the many variations from deep saturated black to sparkling bright white, and detail is sharp and clear. The audio is also very good, with dialogue consistently clean and sound effects and music cues well-balanced.
Unfortunately, the one extra is a static-plagued 1951 radio version of the Sherwood stage play, directed by LeRoy and starring Norma Shearer as Myra.
— Peggy Earle
(1&2) The next day, Roy’s orders to return to France have been delayed by 48 hours, and he decides to propose to Myra. “You’re going to marry me, you see?” says Roy. “I see,” responds Myra. The couple rushes to his barracks to get the blessing from his Colonial, who happens to be his uncle (C. Aubrey Smith). (3) Roy and Myra discover they must wait until the next day to get married in the church. (4&5) Members of the ballet company are excited for Myra, but she tells her best friend Kitty (Virginia Field) Roy’s orders have been pushed up by a full day.
(1&2) Myra rushes to Waterloo Station to see Roy off, but they just miss each other. (3) Myra is comforted by Kitty when their strict ballet director (Maria Ouspenskaya) dismisses her from the company for missing a performance.
(1) Sometime later after no job prospects and thinking Roy was dead, Myra joined Kitty as a prostitute working at the Waterloo Station. (2) Myra is shocked when she discovers Roy at the station, and that he had been a POW at a German camp. (3&4) Roy takes Myra to his family estate and a dance ball is organized to celebrate his arrival back home. (5) Roy’s mother Lady Margaret (Lucile Watson) comforts Myra telling her, “I’m very happy about this marriage...and I know we’re going to be wonderful friends. Goodnight my daughter.”
(1&2) The romance comes to an end.