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Archive for the ‘Mae Clarke’ Category

Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version

17 Feb

Waterloo Bridge – 1931 version — directed by James Whale. Romantic Melodrama. A streetwalker finds true love in the devotion of a Yank soldier in WW I. 83 minutes Black and White 1931.

★★★★

Here is an actress one has never heard of – Mae Clarke – and she is giving one of the greatest film performances by an American actor you have ever seen. As I watched I though What a fabulous Blanche du Bois she would have made – far better than Vivien Leigh as the final faint flutterings of a burnt moth, or Jessica Tandy with her put-on airs of serial condescension – both of them English – whereas Clarke would have been a once-strong wounded bird really fighting for her life, and you would have known it. And you would also have known that Blanche was American, and so her mannerisms would have seemed all the more atrocious. Here she plays a chorus girl out of job in London, and she meets up with a Yank from Canada who has joined the British Army and is about to be sent overseas. For him it’s love at first sight. For her it’s love at last gasp. Clarke’s command of the set, a little room without bath in a boarding house, is a little masterpiece of the actor’s craft. She knows where everything is and how it works and what it does. Her choice to be natural and at ease when she is walking the street is smart, for she is torn apart in her scenes with the soldier. There is no ambiguity about this, for the choice itself is of ambiguity. She is electric with tension. And you can experience, as she does, the balance of being not yet hard-bitten. The story is from a stage play by Robert Sherwood, and it was to be made into another more famous film eight years later with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, and you will have to decide for yourself which is more powerful. I know where my vote goes. This version is pre-Code and more raw. James Whale (Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein, Show Boat, Gods and Monsters) directed it and Arthur Edeson filmed it, and all the setups reflect the bias of the time for shooting talking films as though they still were stage plays, straight on with a fourth wall missing. Actually it’s a system I prefer for stage plays. I do not hold with the fashionable notion that movies must be primarily about moving or about pictures and not about what people say. I believe pictures are exactly about what people say. All the rest is decor. Camerawork and movement may give narrative fluidity to those exchanges, but they are the oil, not the automobile. Douglass Montgomery is very good opposite her, and has a fiery scene opposite Ethel Griffies, terrific as a biddy cockney landlady. Griffies went on acting on the stage and in films until she was over a hundred; I saw her on the Broadway stage in Madwoman twenty years later, and twenty years after that in 1960 you can see her in The Misfits; here she seems already over a hundred. Frederick Kerr is very funny as a deaf English major, and now for your surprise and satisfaction, ladies and gentlemen, in her third film is Bette Davis in society girl frocks. What the film brings to us is what is left over from the mechanism of sex, the thing that won’t go away, which is the lost charm of love’s exchange. The film is a period piece, but, with Mae Clarke, a piece of art nonetheless.

 
 
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