Re: MGM at it's best and worst ("Waterloo Bridge," "Scaramouche")

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Friday, July 10, 1998 9:27 AM

Kolaga Xiuhtecuhtli wrote in message

>I watched SCARAMOUCHE again yesterday. It strikes me that this is MGM
>at it's best. Outstanding production values and four well cast
>actors. Eleanor Parker is amazing as the redheaded "wench". Stewart
>Granger seems perfect as the title character. There's romance, comedy
>and action. It's a great adventure movie with some singing and
>dancing on the side.

Lead actor Stewart Granger didn't like the finished film (although he was excited about the property before filming) and his reasons are borne out by the film itself: the movie sunders the heroic elements of the main character by the director's lighthearted approach, the film's pageantry, and the sense that none of what is going on is to be taken seriously.

Granger had appeared in swashbucklers in his native England, and was all too conscious of the difference between the MGM and British means of realizing them.  Granger may also have been knowledgeable about MGM's silent version of "Scaramouche" (particularly given cast overlap between the two MGM versions).

>The bad side of MGM is GABY. They tossed in some singing and dancing
>and generally ruined WATERLOO BRIDGE. I take it that Leslie Caron is
>_not_ a prostitute. The original James Whale film is the best. GABY
>is one of those films I stopped the VCR and never turned it back on.

"Gaby" doesn't follow the storyline of "Waterloo Bridge" much during its first hour, instead depicting a dull John-Doe-meets-Jane-Doe story. John Kerr and Leslie Caron portray their roles with so little distinct personality that there's little reason to remain interested. However, "Gaby" is its last hour does follow the pattern of Robert Sherwood's original play (by way of MGM's 1940 Robert Taylor-Vivien Leigh remake).

It's quite the case that Leslie Caron is not indicated to be a prostitute in this 1950s version. The three versions offer an interesting comparison of what movie-makers believed audiences wanted to see in their heroines (within the limits of the Production Code, in the case of the last two versions).

* In James Whale's gritty 1931 version, Mae Clarke is a prostitute from the beginning of the movie. She returns to her profession even after the soldier's declaration that he will marry her.

* By 1940, when Vivien Leigh essayed the role for the glossy MGM version, she is reliably employed as a dancer when the story opens, and it is only much later, when she believes that her boyfriend has been killed in the war (a plot twist not in the 1931 version), that she turns to prostitution not only as a profession but also apparently to deaden her senses to cope with her loss.

* With 1956's "Gaby" -- presented to an audience familar with the Kinsey Report, Masters & Johnson, etc. -- the heroine again is "pure" at the beginning (as most young women in the audience would not see themselves bringing upon bitterness in life when bright opportunities seemed to be available to the young), but when the reported death of her beloved makes her regret her not submitting to him on the eve of his departure for the front -- when she is now questioning whether his inability to obtain a marriage ceremony during the too-brief time window he had to share with her -- she sees her (and society's) sexual-morals code as one that excised pleasure from all of life, and thus she declares that she should make herself an offerer of "last nights" to the lonely, frightened soldiers she finds on their last evening of leave. Thus, the actions of the original story were modified to bring them in line with changing public mores and its unacted-upon attitudes. The change: Gaby does sell her body but gives it away. She experiences the same deadening of the senses as Vivien Leigh had 16 years earlier. For the story as a whole, though, this new situations sets up the conflict between the principle man and woman to be resolved just as it had been in the earlier version.

David Hayes


Return to Table of Contents

Go to next article