Waterloo Bridge opens with the ending; a man in despair looking out over the bridge. As a story telling device this can be compelling and effective. For Waterloo Bridge this device pretty much spoiled the entire story for me and sort of pissed me off.
My love for Robert Taylor stems from his less than critically acclaimed films like Personal Property and the fact that he was married to our favorite Forbidden Hollywood screen siren, Barbara Stanwyck for 13 years. The fact that this was a role post Gone with the Wind for Vivien Leigh was also fairly promising. Mind you, this was a decent role. It wasn’t Hamilton Woman but was a decidedly complex role that she could have brought a few more layers to.
Vivien Leigh plays ballerina, Myra, committed to dancing who once upon an evening meets British officer, Roy Cronin who quickly steels her heart. The typical struggles of choosing the life of a dancer during wartime versus getting married to an officer are laced through the early parts of this film. What should she do? Which should she choose? Roy quickly makes the decision for her and they choose to get married. Of course things quickly go awry when Roy is called to battle and has to leave town. The promise in tact, Myra decides to leave the ballet in preparation for her life as a wife and mother. Then news of Cronin’s death shows up in the paper.
This is where the story telling device of reverse chronology really kicks in. We know Roy Cronin is alive. What decisions will Myra make that cause the outcome we’ve already been shown? While there is some intrigue here I have to say my hopes were dashed at the start. Of the two characters Roy is the more likable one, so to see him in turmoil upset me from the get go. Truthfully no excuse that Myra could have produced would have made it acceptable to allow this type of ending for Roy. Harsh, yes. If Myra had succeeded in being more likable I might have felt empathy for the situation in which she would soon find herself.
After she sees Cronin’s name in the paper, she is visited by his mother, providing missed opportunity #1 to reach out to her and ask for help. Then she is confronted with the fact that she has no money and no future , providing missed opportunity #2 to go back to her dancing career. Perhaps her pride can’t take a hit or maybe women just didn’t think creatively in the olden days, but I would bet its the former. Because of missed opportunities #1 and #2 Myra feels trapped and turns to … you guessed it -prostitution- the one thing that she feels seals her fate when in matters most in the end.
When Roy shows back up in her life she learns the misprint in the paper was indeed a mistake and because of her choices feels she no longer worthy of love, and can’t get married. Regardless of Roy’s actual feelings and willingness to disregard all of her indiscretions Myra instead chooses to ignore opportunity #3, the fact that he still wants to marry her.
A long walk down Waterloo Bridge and a slew of army trucks and bright lights quickly take away all of her cares and leaves Roy alone, pining and at the bridge, at Christmas…alone.
Wartime love stories, I get. I understand those plots and many of the sacrifices involved. There’s an understanding of human behavior that says the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. Given Myra’s dedication and commitment to her dancing career her character *should* have approached the situation at hand with more voracity. Sure that somehow, someway she could get through it. Being a dancer, sacrifice should have also been very familiar to her which should have made it easier to bear. Of course we could blame all of her bad decision making and lack of pluck on the fact that she was devastated and in love, but even then for a love interest that only appeared in her life for a few days, I find it hard to believe. Perhaps I didn’t like this story? Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered how Vivien acted in this film? Perhaps I was expecting Scarlett.
Sad to say I would not recommend this film unless you are a die hard Taylor or Leigh fan and just want the experience. There are so many better war time films out there with stronger story-lines and stronger acting that could fill your time and improve your film education. AnnStj tends to know these ones by heart. So reach out if you’re looking for something better.