Saturday, May 16, 2015

Happy 75th Anniversary, Waterloo Bridge!

This weekend marks the 75th Anniversary of Waterloo Bridge, which premiered on May 16th, 1940. Waterloo Bridge is a beautifully filmed, romantic melodrama, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. The movie was based on the stage play (same name) by Robert Sherwood and had already received the Hollywood treatment once before in 1931. The pre-code version is definitely worth watching for the fantastic performance given by Mae Clarke in the lead role. In 1940, the play was adapted for the screen by Hans Rameau, Samuel Behrman and George Froeschel, and produced by Sidney Franklin.

Waterloo Bridge was a very important movie for Vivien Leigh as it marked the first screen role she undertook after her Academy Award winning performance as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With Wind. Everyone was waiting to see if she was a flash-in-the-pan or if she was here to stay. Vivien portrayed Myra with a beauty and sensitivity that left no movie-goer, critic or Hollywood mogul in doubt that here indeed was true talent.

The movie opens in London during World War II. The screen is a dark gray matte, then a man's voice comes over a loudspeaker with wartime instructions for the Londoners. The camera spans over the crowds, then focuses on a group of schoolchildren. It's a grim reminder of war and the tragedy it brings. Joseph Ruttenberg's dramatic photography earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Waterloo Bridge for Cinematography (B&W).

Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor) is a Colonel in the British army, who pauses on Waterloo Bridge and reminisces about a dancer named Myra (Vivien Leigh) he met when he was a young man, during World War I on that same bridge.

Roy and Myra met back then as sirens blasted through the air, warning of impending air raids. They sought shelter together, huddling among the masses, in an underground bomb shelter. Roy's a captain in the army and Myra's a ballet dancer for a troupe run by a strict Madame, played by Maria Ouspenskaya.

Roy and Myra embark on a whirlwind, forty-eight hour romance, which director Mervyn LeRoy vividly captured in close-ups, music and lighting. Though Herbert Stothart received an Oscar nomination for Music (Original Score), the song that stays with the viewer the most is Auld Lang Syne. It's the song that Myra and Roy dance to for the first time and marks the scene in which they fall in love. It's a significant, tender scene in which LeRoy decided no words would be necessary to convey the characters' thoughts.

Unfortunately for Myra, and their romance, Roy is called away to the front. Then disaster strikes her heart as she reads Roy's name on the casualty list and she falls into a tailspin of despair. Destitute and unable to find work, Myra now makes her living on the streets. One night, while plying her trade at the train station, a miracle happens: Roy returns. He's overcome with joy at seeing Myra and gushes nonstop, completely unaware of her emotional struggle. Vivien Leigh's expressive face shows well the inner turmoil Myra experiences: shock, disbelief, hope, love, tears and misery. All these emotions cross her face in a matter of seconds. What now for these two? Will they recover from the time apart or will their love be crushed by all that's happened since Roy went away?

Vivien gives a poignant performance, most notably during her reunion with Roy and later with his mother. In a rare moment, Vivien even gives us a taste of her comedic skills when she spies Roy waiting for her in the rain and rushes to get ready. Taylor's performance is all happiness as his character sees nothing but the good in Myra.

Other members of the cast include: Virginia Field as the memorable Kitty, Myra's best friend; Lucille Watson as Roy's mother; and C. Aubrey Smith as his uncle.

Robert Taylor, while in the midst of filming Waterloo Bridge, had this to say: This is the first good picture I've had in a year. I'm lucky to have Vivien Leigh with me. She's the biggest bet in Hollywood. People will come to see her who'd never dream of wanting to see me. 

On wanting to do a role like Myra as opposed to another role like Scarlett, Vivien said: The danger is one every actor dreads. It is being typed. Nothing could be more fatal. It would be pleasant to be able to live in the past. I cannot deny that playing Scarlett was a great satisfaction. I am not unaware of my good fortune. At the same time, I am sure audiences would soon tire of me as a perennial Scarlett. I know I would tire of a continuous Scarlett portrayal. It is variety that keeps an actor interesting. Besides, I am always keenly enthusiastic in whatever I am doing. The past can take care of itself.

Some trivia about Waterloo Bridge:
  • This was the second pairing of Taylor and Leigh. Vivien had a co-starring role in Taylor's film A Yank at Oxford.
  • Waterloo Bridge was remade once again as Gaby in 1956, with Leslie Caron and John Kerr in the lead roles.
  • Mervyn LeRoy fell ill for a few days during filming and W.S. Van Dyke stepped in as director.
  • Waterloo Bridge was Mervyn LeRoy's first time back in the director's chair since he'd given up the megaphone to be on the producing side of things.
  • In between scenes, when Vivien wasn't entertaining guests, she: knitted woolen helmets for soldiers; studied lines for her upcoming play, Romeo and Juliet, with Laurence Olivier; and played chinese checkers and battleship with her co-stars.
  • Due to the unsavoriness of the plot, the movie was marketed for "adults only."
  • Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor were in the middle of a kissing scene, when "lights fell from the rafters" and crashed on the ground near the couple.

This post is part of My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon and National Classic Movie Day, hosted by Rick from Classic Film and TV Cafe. Please pop over to see other contributions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I'm really excited to be joining The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, hosted by Margaret Perry.

For my entry, I've chosen to write about Summertime, a bittersweet, romantic movie from 1955, directed by David Lean. The film's based on the play, The Time of the Cuckoo, by Arthur Laurents and was adapted for the screen by Lean and H.E. Bates.

Summertime, also known as Summer Madness, premiered in June, 1955 with the first opening in Venice and the second opening in New York City. The NYC premiere was held at the Astor Theater with approximately 1,300 people in attendance. A large crowd gathered outside the theater to catch glimpses of the stars as they arrived.

There are many reasons to love this movie, which is set, and filmed entirely, in Venice, Italy. The cinematography by Jack Hildyard almost plays like another character as he adroitly captures Venice and all her charm with vistas of centuries old buildings that sit alongside the city's watery veins. Then there's the movie's brilliant soundtrack by Alessandro Cicognini, which is perfectly scored, and haunts the viewer at all the right moments.

Katharine Hepburn plays Jane Hudson, an unmarried, middle-aged, 'fancy secretary,' from Akron, Ohio. Jane's been saving quite awhile for her first trip abroad and the movie opens with her arriving in Venice by train. Her excitement is palpable. She's drunk with delight, giddy for Venice and for some romance in her ordinary life. She's in love with the idea of being in love and is "looking for a wonderful, mystical, magical miracle." But as she later finds out, sometimes miracles "need a little push" in order to happen.

Jane's staying at Pensione Fiorini, run by the widow Signora Fiorini, played by Isa Miranda. Other guests include an American couple Jane met earlier en route to the Pensione: Lloyd and Edith McIlhenny (MacDonald Parke and Jane Rose). They are a little crass and Venice is but one European stop of many for them. The other couple we are introduced to are the Yaegers (Darrin McGavin and Mari Aldon); Eddie's an artist and his wife, Phyl, likes to shop.

Signora Fiorini: Is this your first trip to Europe?
Jane: How did you guess?
Signora Fiorini: You don't mind traveling all alone?
Jane: No, I like it.
Signora Fiorini: Oh, I would hate it.
Jane: I'm the independent type, always have been.

We feel Jane's first stirrings of loneliness at the Pensione as the two couples and the landlady all have dinner plans and no one wants to have a quick drink with her. She's left alone on the terrace and the film's music invades the viewer, giving Jane's loneliness a life of its own. The large terrace, with its multiple seating areas, is used as backdrop in several scenes to showcase Jane's solitary existence.

Jane ventures out by herself to Piazza San Marco, where she finds herself slightly shocked at the forwardness of some of the young men. It's here in the Piazza that we have our first glimpse of Renato di Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), an antiques dealer with a shop nearby. She catches him admiring her and becomes embarrassed by his attention. Unnerved, she fumbles for her sunglasses and il conto.

The next day, Jane is out sightseeing and is drawn to a shop with a ruby red goblet in the window. The shop is Renato's. Later, that night, they meet again at Piazza San Marco. Romance is about to enter Jane's life. No more lies to her married friends at home: "This time we'd be a quartet [instead of a trio]."

The best known scene in the film is when Hepburn falls into the canal. Her character is busy with her movie camera, filming Renato's store, when she starts backing up to get a better shot and falls into the water. She's horribly embarrassed when she comes out of the canal and calls for Mauro to return her to the Pensione. Mauro is a street urchin, whom Jane hired to guide her through the streets of Venice.

Of course, Renato hears of her ignominious fall and comes to see her at the Pensione. Jane's not used to being on the receiving end of male attention, therefore, she's nonplussed by Renato's visit.

Renato: I thought everything happened so fast in America.
Jane: Not this sort of thing, not to me.

Spoilers ahead!

They meet the next day and he buys her a gardenia, a flower that's been haunting Jane's romantic dreams since her college days. It represents the past, present and future. It foreshadows the movie's ending as the gardenia reappears later in the film and is as elusive to Jane then as the one that gets away now, floating down the canal, out of reach of her's and Renato's grasping hands.

Then comes heartbreak for Jane before their affair even begins, when she finds out that Renato's married with four children.

Renato: You are like a hungry child who's been given ravioli to eat. 'No,' you say, 'I want beefsteak.' My dear girl, you are hungry. Eat the ravioli.
Jane: I'm not that hungry.

Oh, but she is that hungry. He soothes her with a tale of separation and before long, she's back in his arms, dancing. Eventually, they make their way to his apartment. The viewer is left with the image of this one red shoe on the balcony, which touchingly says what doesn't need to be said.

Jane only has one way out of this summer affair. Her moral code and semi-sheltered life she led at home won't permit another choice. She tells Renato, It's the happiest time in my whole life. She has one last glimpse of Renato as he rushes to see her off at the train station: in his hand, a white gardenia.

This is an amazing role for Katharine Hepburn. She plays Jane Hudson with a fine nuance, showing the character's longing in simple glances and gestures. There are moments when no dialogue is needed, simply the expression on Jane's face is enough to convey her thoughts. There is no confident character here, rather a false bravado front with vulnerability stirring close to the surface. In her autobiography, Kate wrote: It was a very emotional part and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. 

Rossano Brazzi is brilliant as the Venetian shop owner emitting old world charm. He's suave, masculine and knows what he wants. For him, there is no fear in pursuing a woman like Jane Hudson. Though Brazzi had been acting since 1938, appearing in over fifty movies, this part for him acted as a breakout role. He received international fame, along with several thousand female hearts.

After watching the movie, Katharine Hepburn gave the characters an alternate ending and said: In real life, she gets off [the train] at Mestra, only 7 miles away and goes right back to him. 

Behind the scenes with Kate and David Lean (next to her)
At the start of filming, Brazzi and Hepburn had what one newspaper called a royal tussle, which culminated with Hepburn walking off the set. Brazzi recalled, "No one ever thought I would finish my picture with Katharine. We are good friends now, but the first day she was telling me: 'Look at me, Mr. Brazzi, when I speak.' I say nothing to this, but I didn't look at her. Then she said, 'Mr. Brazzi, I don't think there will ever be a picture released with Rossano Brazzi and Katharine Hepburn.' Miss Hepburn, I say, that's fine with me... Now we are the best of friends and I think she's the greatest actress in the world."

Five fun facts about Summertime:
1. Katharine Hepburn received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
2. David Lean received an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
3. Kate's character's name 'Jane Hudson' reappeared a few years later in the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movie "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?"
4. Katharine Hepburn did her own stunts, including the fall into the canal, which gave her a lifelong eye irritation.
5. Rossano Brazzi was nine years younger than Kate. He was born in 1916 and she was born in 1907.

Thanks for joining me in this celebration of Katharine Hepburn!