Saturday, March 24, 2007


James Whale directed this first film version of Robert Sherwood's play, a WWI romantic melodrama about a soldier and a prostitute. The more famous 1940 version with Vivien Leigh (in which her livelihood, due to the Production Code, is presented rather obscurely) has been in constant circulation, but this one has been difficult to find until Warners released it on DVD as part of its first Forbidden Hollywood set. Given how long I've waited to see this, it was a bit of a disappointment. We first see Mae Clarke, a chorus girl, on stage in the closing night of a play. She turns down the chance to do another show, as she has just received a fox stole from an admirer and isn't worried about her immediate future. Two years later, however, she has fallen on hard times and makes a living as a prostitute, as does her buddy Doris Lloyd. One night as she's making her usual nighttime visit to Waterloo Bridge, an air raid occurs and she and a young American soldier (Douglass Montgomery, billed as Kent Douglass) help an older woman find shelter. The two hit it off and go back to her shabby apartment for conversation; Montgomery doesn't pick up on her profession and when he finds out that she is behind on her rent, he offers to pay it for her. She refuses and sends him away to go back into the night, but the next morning, the smitten soldier returns with flowers and, because he's about to be sent back to the front, a marriage proposal. Lloyd tries to talk her into taking it, but Clarke knows he's a naive kid and doesn't want to ruin his life. Nevertheless, she agrees to take a motor trip to the country with him and he sweeps her off to meet his well-to-do family at their country estate. His mother realizes what she is and has a brutally honest heart-to-heart talk with her in which she asks Clarke not to marry him. When she sneaks back to London, he follows and finds out about her occupation from the landlady (Ethel Griffes). Undeterred, he pays her rent, and just before he has to ship out, he finds her back on Waterloo Bridge. The sad ending is different in its specifics from the ending of the 1940 remake, but the effect is similar. Clarke is fine in the lead; she is best known in movie lore as the woman who gets a grapefruit in her face from James Cagney in THE PUBLIC ENEMY, but most film fans probably know her better as Dr. Frankenstein's wife in Whale's 1932 FRANKENSTEIN. Montgomery is fresh-faced and well-scrubbed, and at first seems too lightweight, but he grows into the part (or I got used to him). Bette Davis has a very small part as Clarke's sister, and Fredrick Kerr is amusing as Montgomery's aged and mostly deaf stepfather. I'm quite happy to have seen this version, but I admit it makes me want to revisit the Vivien Leigh version, which is less honest but glossier and sudsier. [DVD]

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