Vivien Leigh may be the great beauty of 1939, but in “Waterloo Bridge” she turns herself into just one of the girls. As Myra Lester she’s meek and chummy and a little bit fragile. We first see her behind other girls passing by the bridge, we only see her because we’re looking for her. She’s not the lead of her ballet company playing in a vaudeville theatre, nor the first lady to get the job or the soldier. What makes her stand out in the crowd and to Captain Roy Cronin (Robert Taylor) are her ideals. The rainy day after their first date will put her in a whirlwind engagement and a series of events that will slowly but surely transform her, and Leigh transforms with her character every step of the way.
Roy, however, keeps the innocence that Myra’s lost, a difficult thing to pull off for a grown man who’s fought in the Great War. He’s also the soldier who doesn’t take no for an answer which makes us feel a little uncomfortable but fortunately finds Myra who’s in love with him despite a few apprehensions. His speech and body language are good, especially in the scene when he has to go through the bodyguards in his barracks. Yes, Taylor only uses the British accent one word per sentence, but we let that go.
Although made by MGM and stars Nebraska-born Taylor, the film is very much British. It kinda reminds me of “Brief Encounter” in a way that there’s a certain noir aspect to the film. Instead of guns and grifters, there are menacing shadows inside night clubs and train stations and ancestral homes and flats, fogs on bridges, headlights on women’s faces. Instead of a suburban American home, romance is set in London grit. It’s like love isn’t meant to last in the city, or that the city has too many roadblocks and temptations that take two perfectly matched lovers away from each other.