Saturday, September 19, 2015

Waterloo Bridge (1931)


TCM Discoveries Blogathon hosted by The Nitrate Diva.

The truth is, except for a handful of classic films - Gone With the Wind, Miracle on 34th Street, Roman Holiday, Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, and a Shirley Temple movie or two - all of the classic films I've discovered and grown to cherish, have come by way of Turner Classic Movies, and each new-to-me film discovery is an abiding pleasure.

Which brings me to Waterloo Bridge, the pre-code version from 1931, not to be confused with the 1940 version starring Vivien Leigh which, up to this summer, was the only version I knew existed until TCM ran it in August as part of their Summer Under the Stars film festival tribute to Mae Clarke. Frankly, I wasn't inclined to watch.  I believed I'd seen everything there was to see in the 1940 "definitive" version.

Phfffbbtt. How wrong I was.

The plot of our film, simplified: Roy Cronin, an American serving in the Canadian Army on leave from the trenches of WWI falls in love with fellow American Myra Deauville, an out-of-work chorus girl turned prostitute.  They meet on Waterloo Bridge in London during an air raid as they help an old woman gather her spilled basket of potatoes and guide her underground to safety.  The rest of the film is devoted to Myra reconciling her shame about her situation to Roy's feelings for her (and hers for him) and Roy's attempts to marry and save her, all the while fighting against circumstance as his leave whittles down the time they have to create a happily ever after for themselves.

What struck me about this film wasn't the story, necessarily, but the characters and their renderings by two actors I had never heard of.

Mae Clarke plays Myra Deauville, and does a brilliant job of conveying the contrasting Myras – playful, sassy, confident chorus girl (and sporting a darling heart-shaped beauty mark on her cheek) and steely eyed, edgy, jaded prostitute (and sporting a once stylish fur around her neck that now just screams cheap). This isn't just a change of clothes, mind you. The transformation is in her eyes and in the few, impeccable mannerisms Clarke employs. 

In an early scene, Myra has invited Roy to her flat after the all clear and after wheedling him out of a shilling for the gas meter and sack of fish-and-chips for dinner, they talk, have a few laughs (and one misunderstanding, quickly resolved) and we see Myra softening towards Roy. After escorting Roy out with promises to meet the next day, she shuts the door, walks to her vanity and sits down in front of the mirror. In the reflection we see her now flat eyes as she yanks her cloche over her head, jabs her curls underneath, and applies three slashes of lipstick to her mouth that bears the merest trace of a of a snarl.  Any lightheartedness of a few moments before is – poof – gone. She’s determined to get her rent, and resigned to her means of doing so.

Other small moments that Clarke writs large:

Cronin at one point asks Myra if she has anyone particular overseas, someone she maybe knits socks for and if not, maybe she’d like to be that for him.  A day or two later, alone in her flat, she’s wearing a little house dress, sitting in front of her little table, puffing on a cigarette dangling from her mouth, taking frantic sips of tea, all the while squinting at a how-to-knit guide with needles and a half completed something in her hands.   It’s a funny moment and charming –  the hard-edged Myra testing out something homey and hopeful.

In another scene, she spills the beans about her circumstances to Roy's mother and when his mother asks if she loves Roy, Myra looks at her, widens her eyes, and gives two tiny nods – yes – and walks quickly out the door.  Some actresses might have gone all melodramatic here, but those two little nods – perfection.

For Clarke, the entire film involves the push and pull of Myra moving towards the love Roy is offering and withdrawing out of shame, the tension of telling him she loves him and denying it and repeating this tug-of-war within herself over and over. On multiple viewings of the film, this back and forth explains a few moments that could be considered melodramatic, but no.  For Myra, the struggle is real.

Our soldier, Roy Cronin, is portrayed by Kent Douglass (billed in other films as Douglass Montgomery).  In Featured Player: An Oral Biography of Mae Clarke, Clarke relates a story about director James Whale’s attempts to work with Douglass’s clumsiness with props of which there are significant number in this film: his military uniform, satchel, swagger stick and rifle, an enormous and ungainly bouquet of flowers and a box from a dress shop.

Whether a credit to director, Douglass’s quickness on the uptake, or dumb luck (or combination thereof), it’s this awkwardness (hacking the bread he shares with Myra, neglecting to wring a soaking wet compress before applying it to Clarke’s forehead and drenching her in the process) that brings earnest Roy Cronin to life.

It doesn’t hurt at all that Douglass is achingly handsome with an infectious laugh and a bright smile fit for toothpaste adds.  Awkward and somewhat naive though he may be, there is a moment when he professes his love to Myra and stutters half a beat, that is quite possibly the most endearing moment in the entire film.

Cronin eventually discovers the truth about Myra’s means of support from the mouth of her shrewish landlady Mrs. Hobley. As he is absorbing the newly revealed truth of Myra’s plight, Mrs. Hobley lectures on about associating with fancy girls with painted faces (like Myra) leading to sin and pain, and he shuts her down, barking “shut your dirty face” and walks out the door. One gets the feeling he could’ve clocked her and one almost wishes he would have.

If you haven’t seen the film, the happy ending is achieved only fleetingly.  After confirming he knows the truth about her (and to our Roy it matters not at all), Myra finally agrees to marry him. A few hasty kisses in front of a truck full of jeering soldiers and under the beginnings of an air raid, Roy boards the truck to return to the front and drives away, and mere moments later, a few steps away from where they first met on Waterloo Bridge, Myra is obliterated by a German bomb.  

A close up of her raggedy fur and the M medallion on her purse, and fini.  To add insult to the injury of a decidedly non-happy ending, the outro music is the jaunty and tinny chorus number that opens the film.  Talk about discordant. 

There is no happy ending, but like me, you can always misremember the real ending, watch and enjoy the film one more time, and try to convince yourself - as I do - it surely will end differently this time.

Other notable players in this film:

Bette Davis plays Roy Cronin’s younger sister.  Davis is charming in this small role – light and girlish with a sweet smile.  By some accounts, Davis was incredibly upset that she didn’t land the role of Myra and was not friendly with Clarke during filming.  Clarke is so good in this part, I really can’t envision Davis in it at all.

Myra’s friend and fellow prostitute, Kitty, played by Doris Lloyd, provides much needed comic relief as she does her best to convince Roy that Myra is helpless and needs marrying, and speaks in a British accent, dropping all h’s so in one line referring to a fictional dead husband she says, “he was young, ‘andsome, and full of ‘ope”. One can almost envision Elsa Lanchester in this role if one were recasting. This one also thinks it might be fun to talk like this for an entire day.

Both Rita Carlisle (the old woman on the bridge) and Ethel Griffies (Mrs. Hobley) reprise similar roles briefly in the 1940 version.

Friday, February 27, 2015


sloppy snow, weighing down the shoulders of the trees out back.
Thursday morning.

"Is it snowing where you are? All the world that I see from my tower is draped in white and the flakes are coming down as big as pop-corns. It's late afternoon - the sun is just setting (a cold yellow color) behind some colder violet hills, and I am up in my window seat using the last light to write to you." 

(Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs, published 1912 
made into a film starring Mary Pickford in 1919).

Monday, June 2, 2014

blog tour monday

Thanks to the most wonderful, Debi, for asking me to play.

Some thoughts on my creative process as it is right this moment. A snapshot, if you will.

* * *

What am I working on?
I'm in the midst of an informal and unplanned hiatus from my usual mediums of painting/paper arts and writing.  I'm tending a container herb garden on my back deck. Transcribing an almost-100-year-old diary kept by young Pennsylvania woman. Cutting, pressing, and stitching units together for a quilt. Yapping on Facebook. Settling in to a new job. Daydreaming. Night dreaming. Listening to The Beach Boys on an endless loop.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don’t really think about genres when it comes to what I do.

Why do I write/create what I do?
An answer with two parts:

Part I
Notice things closely, and remember.

Part II:
In the documentary Man on a Wire, Philippe Petit - the man who surreptitiously strung a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spent the better part of an hour walking, sitting, squatting, and dancing on it - is asked what compels him to do these sorts of daredevil things and he says people ask him this all the time, and even as he’s answering the question, he’s walking away from the camera, waving his hands dismissively, saying he leaves the whys to the psychiatrists, he’s too busy to doing his thing to analyze why this is his thing.

I love that.

Does it really matter why? I can. I want to.

How does my writing/creative process work?
All I know for sure is it ebbs and flows, has its own rhythms, spells, and moods, and because I am not seeking to monetize or market my work, I don’t force anything. If it isn’t fun (and by fun I mean absorbing, not necessarily happy, skipping, la la la “fun”) there isn’t any reason for doing it at all.

Mostly, it’s a mystery.  It brings to mind surfing, what I understand of it, anyway. Paddle out toward the horizon, squint, sit, wait, watch. See a wave that looks right, hop on the board, and ride it for as long as you can – sometimes only a few feet, sometimes all the way home.

What makes me happiest, the thing that feels rightest to me: going out into the world and looking around, coming home and writing it, painting, it, remembering it all down.

* * *

And now, over to next week's participants:

Hollie Sessoms is a girl from nowhere who routinely neglects family, friends, and health to spend time with her imaginary friends on Microsoft Word. She is passionate about spaces in between, Sunday afternoon, and fall leaves that crunch underfoot. Once, when she was young, she saw an orca breach in the sea off the Alaska coast.

Sandy Lupton  is a lifelong learner, graphic designer, painter, mixed media and jewelry artist from Courtland, Virginia. She loves the beach, John Wayne movies, polka dotted dogs, beer and her family & friends with all her heart. She may have warped her brain a little by watching too many 70's sitcoms as a child.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I want I want I want

the tannin in the water like a lake full of root beer
Lake Prince 4/26/14
I want to learn how to fold a tiny paper crane. And plant a moon garden in containers. Maybe take piano lessons from my neighbor. I want to rip canvas off stretchers and bind them into a book the size of an atlas to house my abstract paintings. I want to write a poem. And publish another zine under my Extra Pickles Press concern from another lifetime ago. I want to cook a duck breast for dinner on a soon Sunday. And next Wednesday stop at Doumar's for a limeade on my way back from making the bank deposit at work. I want to mark x's, in big fat marker, to count down the days to Ann Arbor or Bust 2014 in October. I want to listen to The Civil Wars next album, the new one they haven't made yet, the one I so very much hope they get to eventually. I want to discover that someone, somehow, leaked the TCM 2014 Summer Under the Stars schedule somewhere on the internets so I can see if Jean Arthur gets her day this year.

And I want to write whatever I want here. Whenever and whyever I want.

I want I want I want.

No apologies for this all this wanting, which, for all its quantity, weighs not very much at all. As I knew it would, the new job jostled loose some fossilized and possibly irrational guilt I had around about my working life. My free time is bought and paid for now, truly free and clear, mine to do with whatever I want.

There's that word again.

* * *

Saturday. In his little boat on Lake Prince. We listened to the Beach Boys as he serpentined slowly, methodically, into and out of quiet, sun dappled coves along the shoreline looking for bass, while I sang along and watched turtles gather on fallen trees, and wrote, even though I never once touched the spiral notebook and pen I brought along.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

firsts and lasts

on gardner street
Although the long winter didn't fuss me much, I'm marking more closely the firsts this Spring. Last week came the first pink cherry blossoms, the first bluebird, the first tinny sound of Turkey in the Straw as the ice cream truck made it's first drowsy serpentine through the neighborhood. This morning it was the first bee. More specifically the first shadow of a bee through the accordion pleats of the blinds. 

Saturday it will be my first opera and I'm pretty sure it lessens the experience not a whit that I'll be sitting in an air conditioned movie theater at the mall up the road. The Met is the Met, even if it's live streamed. Even if I'm wearing jeans and flip flops.

And not too long after that will be the first day at my new job. The first commute into Norfolk with one of those pre-paid transponder things on my truck to calculate tolls. The first day of the new schedule, still part time but every day and maybe not part time for long (though it is my secret wish I will be so magnificently efficient at my task that it will remain part time). The first interactions with the new boss and new co-workers and setting up a new-to-me desk. And shortly after that, of course, the first new paycheck.

But before the firsts will be the lasts. The last twice weekly conversations - about politics, about gardening, about his family history, and his experiences on a shrimp boat in Alabama - with my 81-year-old friend, Charlie. The last lunch at Don Pancho's with Sharon. The last walk through the lot to take iphone pictures of ladders and random bunches of rusty things and that shiny teal Mustang I never did get to take a spin in. And on the last day, leaving my keys on the desk and closing the door behind me after almost eight years, the longest job I've ever had.

* * *

Nailed to the telephone pole across the street from the office is a bluebird box Charlie made. All these years, through the window next to my desk, I've watched these bright little birds flitting about and sometimes Charlie and and I stand at the door and watch them dive to the grass from the telephone wires (and also, Charlie likes to watch the planes dragging their vapor trails through the sky). But this last week the birds have come closer than ever before. Last week the one sitting - so long and still - on the front steps and yesterday, one on the stair railing peering inside, little seed-pearl eyes blinking. 

Friday, March 21, 2014


On Saturday I emailed my mother a question about a sewing needle and found out my Nonnie, my maternal grandmother, was not doing well. She sometimes knew people, but a moment later might not. And I carried this thought - would she know me? -  all that day. That night I dreamed I was standing outside the little Catholic church of my childhood, wearing a black dress. I saw my Nonnie and approached with hesitation, "Nonnie?" and she beamed and said "Jeannine!" and we embraced tightly, laughing and sobbing.


The thing you should know about her was her voice. She sang. With Evelyn, there was always singing. On stages and in choirs, and once or twice - almost - on the radio. Maybe, most probably, if things had been different, she'd have had a professional career. She sang while making cannelloni, while driving in the car, at my mom's second wedding. She sang for her six kids, and she sang for her grandchildren, and most recently for her little blond-headed great granddaughter. Always, the singing. Always, the voice. It was the thing that was solely hers.


Nonnie told me once that when her mother, my great grandmother, had Alzheimer's disease and didn't know anyone, she would walk in to her mother's room for a visit, and her mother would immediately hum a melody. So even in a memory woven with cobwebs, her mother recognized her daughter.


"My little girl, pink and white as peaches and cream is she ..."

Until a few years ago, when I saw Carousel for the first time, I had no idea that this song*, Soliloquy, was ten minutes long, mostly about a boy, and sung by a man. For me, it was these few words and Nonnie's song; her song for me.

She was a soprano, a lyric soprano when she was younger, and I don't really know what those designations mean, but her voice was so clear and true, it went in through your ears, wrapped itself around your heart and squeezed. When I watch The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins, I see Julie Andrews, but hear Nonnie. Very similar. And how lucky to be able to listen to Nonnie's pretty voice any old time I wanted.


My first Evelyn, the original, my Nonnie, died on Monday in California. 

May she rest in sweet peace. 


And this morning, the first pink blossoms on the neighbor's tree, and the first bluebird - like a little neon light with wings - greeted me on the brick steps of my office. 

*This bit of song starts at 4:08

Friday, March 14, 2014

mermaid lessons, part ii

little works, big happy

what inspiration looks like these days

"Writers think in metaphors.
Editors work in metaphors.
A great reader reads in metaphors.
All are continually asking, "What does this represent? What does it stand for?"
They are trying to take everything one level deeper.
When they get to that level, they will try to go deeper again."


Artists ask those same questions.

As do mermaids.