Waterloo Bridge (1931):

In the glacéed MGM remake, Vivien Leigh goes into prostitution carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders; in the Warners version, Mae Clarke hits the street cuz "jobs are hard to find and rents are high, that's all," a shrug appreciated by James Whale. A coruscating role for the actress, though Whale has to first find her amid the Mamoulian-like bustle, the camera cranes down from a theater balcony and shuffles through a musical production's boffo finale until Clarke is located with the chorines. The fancy coat she receives in the dressing room one moment becomes part of her tart getup the next as she plies her trade under bombarding dirigibles -- one such air raid introduces her on the eponymous bridge to Douglass Montgomery, a fellow Yank in London and a callow soldier away from the trenches. They go to her flat, he's delighted at how she can light a match off her heel but can't imagine her line of work, Ethel Griffies enters as her landlady, "a proper whited sepulcher"; by early morning the two are talking about having reached the "sock-knitting stage," Montgomery promises to return and Clarke puts on her streetwalker uniform, silently yet with a sudden sadness. The soldier brings flowers to her empty apartment, Clarke's pal (Doris Lloyd) spots him from across the roof and moseys over in a shot surely noted by Renoir -- all the poor heroine needs is a gallant hero, Lloyd assures him, and, before Clarke can tell the neighbor to mind her own business, she's been invited to meet Montgomery's aristocratic family, Whale ends the scene with bloomers hung to dry in front of the lens. A tragic path, capped with an overhead tracking shot which perversely visualizes an early throwaway quip, but Clarke is to Whale not so much a lachrymose sufferer as the first of his several transgressive outcasts, whose tattered mink scarf is as treasured by the filmmaker as Karloff's insinuating scars. With Enid Bennett, Frederick Kerr, and Bette Davis. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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