Friday, April 22, 2011

Classic Movie Marathon Day 5: Waterloo Bridge (1940)


In Black Swan, the character Nina must lose herself in order to get into character for her ballet companies production of 'Swan Lake'. Clint Mansell also produced a score based heavily on Tchaikovsky's music to make the movie moody and atmospheric. What does this have to do with Waterloo Bridge? Black Swan and Waterloo Bridge have more in common than one would think. No, there aren't any lesbian sex scenes, seedy dance directors or a copious amount of mirror shots. Instead, these two are remarkably similar through their use of Swan Lake to show changes in the lead characters. And, come to think of it, Swan Lake is only portrayed as a seemingly minor thing in this movie.


On the surface, Waterloo Bridge seems like it is just an average romantic story, set amongst the danger of the war, between ballerina Myra Lester (Vivien Leigh) and a soldier Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor). Cronin, in the midst of the second World War, decides to go to Waterloo Bridge and reminisce about the romance he shared with Myra during the first World War. It's here we learn their story, and why Waterloo Bridge is so important. They first met during an air raid at this particular place, and quickly fell in love. They were so sure of their love that a couple of days later they become engaged, hoping to be married before Cronin goes back on duty. But Cronin is asked back early, and when Myra goes to see him off she misses a ballet performance and is expelled from her dancing school. Myra anxiously awaits Cronin's return, until she reads that he was killed in action. Distraught from the news and broke from living with her best friend Kitty (Virginia Field) without a job, Myra descends into prostitution as a way of living, but is unaware that Cronin isn't really dead at all.


This sounds a lot like the recent Brothers, which instead throws family ties into the mix. But I prefer this far more, and I love this movie so much that it may be one my favourite romances of all time. Vivien Leigh, with a career including such masterpieces as Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, said that this movie was her personal favourite out of everything she did. And I don't blame her. It's heart-achingly beautiful, especially because of the amazing cinematography and smooth direction from Mervyn LeRoy. This is particularly shown in the dance scene between Myra and Cronin on their first date, where he strips the moment of dialogue and just follows them around. He manages to capture such beauty in such a subtle way, from start to finish. That is why this film is such a triumph. Pairing Robert Taylor with Vivien Leigh - in their second film together - was a high point, too. They had such chemistry that made this movie even more devastating than it already was. But of course, I have to hand it to my idol Vivien Leigh. How is that woman so beautiful and talented? I feel that her work here was just about as good as her work in GWTW, and that is saying something.


Anyway, back on the Black Swan comparison that I kept thinking about whilst watching this movie. Nina changed in order to play her character on stage. She was once a virginal, innocent girl, but after she let her dark side take over, it was like she'd been tarnished or something. Myra, well she doesn't change to be a character. Hell, she isn't even the lead in the production, she just dances around with the rest of the company. But at the start of the film, she's a glowing, bright young girl who is probably sweeter than pink frosting on a cupcake. However, once she 'loses' Roy, she starts appearing as this dark, almost sinister woman. Throughout the rest of the movie, you see her try and keep a grasp on herself, but ends up succumbing to the dark side which has taken over. I don't even think Darren Aronofsky would have used Waterloo Bridge as an influence - I doubt anyone has - but this is the way a romantic drama should be made. Stunningly beautiful, aching with sadness and bursting a Tchaikovsky-inspired score. There are no words to describe how much I love this movie.

What I got (haha, irony):

30 comments:

  1. Wow, very interesting review. I saw Waterloo Bridge quite a while ago and thought it was very sad. I don't even remember that Vivien's character was working on Swan Lake. When I will be rewatching it, I'll pay my attention to your remarks about its accidental similarity to Black Swan.

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