Warner Bros. // 1940 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // February 11th, 2009
"Every parting from you is like a little eternity."
Waterloo Bridge is one of Hollywood's great romantic tragedies. Beautifully produced and acted, but lacking the kind of iconic star power someone like Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart would have brought, the film has unfortunately fallen into obscurity. Warner Bros. now gives Waterloo Bridge its first DVD release.
Myra (Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire) and Roy (Robert Taylor, Ivanhoe) meet on London's Waterloo Bridge during a WWI air raid. They immediately fall in love. She's a ballet dancer, and he's a British officer. She is reserved and grounded, and from a modest background. He's impetuous and romantic, and the scion of wealth. He wants to marry her right away, but his orders change at the last minute, and he's shipped out. Myra is fired from the ballet, and she and a friend try to make their way in war-time London.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of opportunities for these pretty young women, and they fall into desperate straits. Then Myra learns that Roy has been killed in action, and her grief and poverty lead her into the degrading life of a streetwalker.
But a surprise awaits the one-time ballerina, another chance at the love she thought she'd lost.
Has Myra already gone too far, or can she still manage to make a respectable life for herself and the man who loves her?
Waterloo Bridge is said to have been the favorite film of its stars, which is understandable, as it offered wonderfully complex and fleshed-out roles. This was especially important for Taylor, as it was a chance to finally portray a strong, mature romantic leading man and help the public forget his earlier, less-sure turn with Garbo in Camille (see the link in the sidebar for Judge Brett Cullum's take on Taylor's work in that film). Taylor more than acquits himself here, and we completely buy this very American actor playing a character from Scotland.
Although Leigh had wanted the part of Roy to go to Laurence Olivier, she was ultimately pleased with Taylor, and rightly so. Their chemistry is immediate and evident, and they make the whole "love-at-first-sight" contrivance seem natural and believable.
Taylor finds the humanity beneath Roy's glib surface. We never for a moment doubt that he is absolutely smitten with Myra, and who can blame him? Leigh was never more beautiful than she was here, even in that small Civil War movie she did for Selznick in 1939. Leigh captures Myra's fragility and resolve beautifully, and her transformation from hopeful innocent to weary fallen woman is masterful, done without an excess of props, costumes, and make-up or grand gestures. Leigh's work here is honest, subtle, and intensely moving and ranks alongside her better-known, Oscar winning roles.
Hollywood stalwart Mervyn LeRoy (Blossoms in the Dust) directed Waterloo Bridge, and it's one of his finest achievements. The film is filled with moments that remind us why classic movies are magic: A last dance to "Auld Lang Syne" is a delicate dream that resonates mournfully later in the film; a rain-soaked embrace creates a striking tableau as heart-stoppingly romantic as has ever been put to film.
It's great to finally have this on DVD, but shame on Warner Bros. for an uncharacteristically low-end presentation. The print is soft and shows some damage, and contrast levels are often weak. The mono audio track is serviceable and clear. The lone extra is the re-release trailer.
Certainly Warner, which has turned out some admirable releases for films that were not wildly popular, could have come up with something a little better here. From what I've read, Waterloo Bridge has a loyal fan base and is fondly remembered not only by fans of Leigh and Taylor, but those who grew up watching it on The Late Show or AMC. It was also the inspiration for one of Carol Burnett's classic movie send ups. If Warner had cleaned up the transfer and added a couple of extras -- maybe an interview with a film historian and a couple of shorts from their vaults -- this could have been a really nice "special edition."
Haunting and beautiful, Waterloo Bridge deserves a higher place in the pantheon of great, tragic romance films. While Warner Bros.' treatment comes up short, this quietly moving masterpiece is a must see.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Robert Taylor Site
* Vivien Leigh Site
* DVD Verdict Review: Camille