Today is the 102nd Birthday of Vivien Leigh, the famed motion picture actress who is primarily remembered for her role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. In commemoration of this special day, my great friend Joseph who runs the blog Wolffian Classic Movies Digest is hosting his very first blogathon to celebrate the life of this indelible legend who continues to enchant audiences with her ethereal beauty and immaculate screen presence. To read the other entries being exhibited during this event please click here .
Vivien Leigh was one of Hollywood’s greatest assets during the golden era of cinema. With her scintillating charm and large luminous eyes that radiated a warm glow, Vivien pioneered her way through each film displaying such a unique quality that captured the attention of audiences worldwide.
After her memorable portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, Vivien Leigh’s status had escalated to the pinnacle of success, and by now her pantheon of fans were eagerly awaiting the discovery of the triumphant vehicles to follow.
When the news was announced fans were just as euphoric as Vivien herself. The journey after Gone With The Wind was a long path that consisted of endless opportunities, but after exploring what these offers entailed, Vivien proceeded down the road that led to her starring in the remake of the notable Pre-Code 1931 classic Waterloo Bridge and into the arms of Robert Taylor.
The 1931 version of the film had proved to be a success and garnered critical acclaim for it’s adeptness at combining controversial and soon to be forbidden themes into the Universal production. Reflecting on the films popularity rating and to capitalize on the prestige position that Vivien Leigh had established, Louis B Mayer seen Waterloo Bridge as the perfect vehicle as a follow up to Gone With The Wind.
Once MGM took over the rights to the film, S.N. Behrman modified the screenplay so it can serve as a project for Vivien Leigh and her new husband Laurence Olivier. This prospect elated Vivien who was recently rejected to star alongside Olivier in Rebecca, but a repeat of the repudiation she ensued was about to happen again when Mayer decided to cast Olivier in the role of Darcy in Pride And Prejudice and reunite Vivien Leigh with Robert Taylor, who she had previously worked with in A Yank At Oxford.
At first Leigh felt perturbed about the whole situation and not appearing alongside Laurence Olivier. However once filming commenced she started to develop a warm rapport with Robert Taylor and found herself actually enjoying the process. Many years later both Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor cited Waterloo Bridge as their personal favorite movie experience.
The story of Waterloo Bridge was originally brought to life in 1930 when Robert E. Sherwood’s consummate Broadway play of the same title was earning considerable results. One year later it was adapted to the screen with James Whale placing his directorial efforts behind the production. Even though the earlier version was an immediate hit on it’s release, the film was overshadowed in 1940 when director Mervyn LeRoy and producer Sidney Franklin amassed a myriad of accolades for the financially successful remake starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor.
In a startling tale of love and heartbreak we are swept away by the solitary presence of Roy Cronin ( Robert Taylor ) an army colonel standing on Waterloo Bridge during the onset of World War II, and reminiscing back to the days of World War I, when he unexpectedly met and instantly fell in love with the young ballerina, Myra Hudson ( Vivien Leigh ) who he shared a blossoming romance with.
As the film unfolds, Roy and Myra are planning to marry when Roy is immediately sent away to the front. Following his departure tragic circumstances ensue with Myra losing her job as a ballerina and when she believes reports that Roy has been killed in action she resorts to prostitution in order to pay her finances.
The already anguished situation turns into a series of catastrophic events when Myra discovers on homecoming day that Roy is still alive and yearns for a joyous marriage, but Myra who is inhabited with guilt and ashamed of her current position feels that any chances of a happy marriage is beyond the bounds of possibility.
Waterloo Bridge is a cinematic masterpiece that marks the first of an array of wartime melodramas produced by Sidney Franklin. The film immediately garnered Franklin altitudinous accolades and paved the way for many other similar productions which include, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest and White Cliffs Of Dover.
Like the other vehicles produced by Franklin that delves into the war, Waterloo Bridge provides viewers with quaintness and charm while it showcases the elements of hardship and despair that emanated during wartime England.
Vivien Leigh was perfect for the role of Myra Lester in Waterloo Bridge. This was a follow up to the wide encomium that proliferated her popularity after Gone With The Wind, and to help epitomize the success and the alluring beauty of Vivien Leigh, S.N. Behrman initially insisted that Laurence Olivier be cast as Leigh’s love interest in the film. Upon hearing the news, Leigh was in high spirits about Olivier being her co-star, but unfortunately for Vivien Leigh this was not to be. Robert Taylor, who had married Barbara Stanwyck the year before was cast in the role as Roy Cronin.
The mastermind of this was Louis B. Mayer who was adamant about Olivier playing the role of Darcy in Pride And Prejudice. This greatly upset Leigh, and to try and be with her husband she went as far as campaigning for the role of Elizabeth Bennett by reasoning that Joan Crawford could star in Waterloo Bridge or Mayer could canvass around for another actor to play Darcy, but instead of paying attention to Leigh’s demands he cast Greer Garson who had previously worked on stage with Laurence Olivier five years earlier in the role of Elizabeth Bennett.
Waterloo Bridge is in my opinion one of the best movies ever made. The film itself is pure magic. Not Only does it contain an impeccable script and astute dialogue, it is abounded by superb cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg that is accompanied by Herbert Stothart’s glorious musical score.
To supplement the masterful creation is the commendable performances by Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. Vivien Leigh was one of the most celebrated stars from the classic era, and her touching and poignant portrayal of Myra Lester really augments that fact. Leigh’s delivery of Myra was filled with melancholy and an air of sadness that is fuelled by her sordid reputation as a prostitute. Even though Myra loves Roy and deep down inside she would love to live happily ever after with him, she is over come with an abundant of guilt that tells her that she can’t go through with the marriage.
Robert Taylor is also excellent as Roy Cronin, the army colonel who is infatuated by Myra and automatically wants to spend the rest of his life with her, but sadly for Roy his hopes were shattered by a marriage that was forbidden.
Apart from the two leads the film spotlights a stellar supporting cast of an assembly of respected character actors which include, Lucile Watson and C. Aubrey Smith who with their distinctive talents and flair for displaying innumerable character demeanour’s all help cement Waterloo Bridge as a motion picture treasure.
Of all the classic Hollywood films ever made, this somewhat obscure title happens to be one of the most popular in China, especially among college students. There are even audio guides for students to practice their English by reciting dialogue from this film. The reason for why this particular film has become so endeared among the Chinese is anyone’s guess. One possibility is that the popularity of Gone with the Wind (1939) in China led many to seek other movies starring Vivien Leigh.
Waterloo Bridge was dramatized on two occasions. First with Brian Aherne and Joan Fontaine and the second time with Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. Both of these broadcasts were for the Screen guild Theatre.
The scene in which Myra and Roy dance to “Auld Lang Syne” was supposed to have dialogue, but nobody could come up with the right words. At about 3:00 in the morning before shooting the scene was to take place, Mervyn LeRoy, a veteran of silent films, realized that there shouldn’t be any lines and that the images should speak for themselves. The result is the most celebrated scene of the film.
Myra Lester: “I loved you, I’ve never loved anyone else. I never shall, that’s the truth Roy, I never shall.”
Myra Lester: “Every parting from you is like a little eternity.”
Roy Cronin: “Well, darling.”
Myra Lester: “Oh, Roy.”
Roy Cronin: “Shall we face it?”
Myra Lester: “It’s been so quick. Are you quite, quite sure?”
Roy Cronin: “Myra, I was never so sure of anything in my life. In the moment you left me after the air raid, I knew I must find you again. I’ve found you and I’ll never let you go. Does that answer you?
Vivien Leigh: Born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5th, 1913 in Darjeeling, British India. Died: July 8th, 1967 in London. Aged 53. Cause of death: Tuberculosis.
Robert Taylor: Born Spangler Arlington Brugh Taylor on August 5th, 1911 in Filley, Nebraska. Died: June 8th, 1969 in Santa Monica, California. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.