London, 1917: chorus-girl turned prostitute, Myra Deauville (Mae Clarke) is meeting potential clients on the titular bridge. One night she meets kindhearted Roy Cronin (Douglass Montgomery), whos a young and naïve soldier looking for company. He falls in love with her unaware of what she does for a living. Myra is reluctant about this relationship; her situation as a prostitute is a shameful necessity, and she doesn't want Roy to find out about it especially when he wants his family to meet her. Eventually, he tricks her to going out in the country to visit his parents, and she spills her secret to his mother. Instead of being repulsed, Mary Cronin is compassionate and understanding. Unable to cope, Myra runs away and tries to forget Roy.
The film is based on the play of the same name written by Robert E. Sherwood. The producer, Carl Laemmle, was so impressed with how James Whale worked under budget, he gave him more work. Whales next feature was Universal's beloved monster flick, Frankenstein. Also, Waterloo Bridge includes an early-bird appearance of Bette Davis as Roys sister, Janet Cronin.
Waterloo Bridge was remade in 1940 with Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, as Myra and Roy respectively, and again in 1956 as Gaby, with Leslie Caron and John Kerr as the leads (now named Gaby and Gregory). The 1940 version doesn't involve prostitution due to censorship, and it adds major changes to the story. In the same vein, Gaby eschews the Downer Ending for a more palatable resolution.
Waterloo Bridge shows the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Myra reveals to Roy that her parents were drunkards, and she ran away to London because she feared what they might do to her.Myra: I'd be ashamed to even introduce you to my people, if they were living, which they aren't. Thank God! And do you want to know why I'd be ashamed? Because my mother and father were a couple of drunken sots! And they lived in East St. Louis, that exclusion suburb! That's where I came from. I ran away and went on the stage because I was scared to stay in my own home! I was scared that one of them would kill me when they were liquored. That's how much aristocracy I am!
- Big "SHUT UP!": Roy does this when Mrs. Hobely bad-mouths Myra for being what she cant help.Mrs. Hobley: Of course, its none of my business, sir, what you do and what you don't do. But I know 'er and I know 'er kind... and if you take my advice, when you do see her, you'll take that receipt and you'll throw it in her painted face and then you'll 'ave no more to do with her! But traffic women, like 'ers, only leads to sin and sin leads to suffering. And a soldier like you has had enough of suffering in this awful war, without having to be contaminated and robbed by the likes of those...Roy: Oh, shut your dirty face!
- Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Myra runs out of Roys family house Then she promises to marry Roy when he finds her, but she runs away once again. He finds her right before he goes back to the front, and finally, marry him when he returns.
- Broken Bird: Myras turned cynical to cope with her poverty.
- Call to Adventure: Why Roy joined the army:Roy: Say, are you an American?Myra: Say, are you a mind reader?Roy: Y-y-yeah. Listen, I'm an American too.Myra: You were one of the boys who couldn't wait, huh?Roy: Oh, I don't know about that. Found myself one morning with nothing to do. So, I thought I'd come to France.Myra: What for?Roy: Fun.Myra: Was it?Roy: No.
- Cranky Landlord: Mrs. Hobley is always angry at Myra for owing back rent. She thought Roy was one of Myras clients and was annoyed when she thought he would pay up but didnt. She eventually spills the beans about Myra being a prostitute to Roy.
- Crapsack World: To Myra, London during the war.
- Cry into Chest: After Myra's mini-meltdown, she cries into Roy's chest.
- Deadpan Snarker: Myra, at times.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Myras parents are dead, and she prefers it that way.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Roy offers Myra money to cover her rent, but she becomes furious at his suggestion that she cant take care of herself.
- Downer Ending: The air raid ravages on once Roy leaves. Right after Myra agrees to marry Roy when he comes back, an explosion goes off near where Myra was walking, and she dies.
- Fanservice: After were introduced to Myras character, shes in the dressing room and strips right in front of the camera.
- Hidden Depths: The Cronin family, especially Roys mother, Mary. She comes from high society and willingly admits that she doesnt like the idea of Roy marrying Myra. However, she still treats Myra with all the respect she deserves even when she finds out that Myra is a prostitute.
- Historical In-Joke: The Cronin family laughs about the new idea Americans are pushing: prohibition. They think that its silly, and itll never happen.Major Fred Wetherby: They tell me, some of the people in your country, are trying to do away with wine altogether. Curious idea!Mary Cronin: Oh, that's all nonsense, darling. It's just a lot of talk.Janet Cronin: Nothing will come of it. You mustn't believe all you see in the papers.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: And how! Myra is so ashamed of her situation that she wont dare tell Roy about it.
- Meet Cute: Roy and Myra meet during an air raid helping an old lady pick up the potatoes she dropped.
- Not So Stoic: Myra keeps a stoic facade in her dire situation as a prostitute. But she completely loses this facade when Roy proposes marriage and invites her to meet his family. She's so ashamed of her situation and fears Roy finding out this secret that she tries her best to get rid of him and has mini meltdown.
- Old Money: Roys family is very rich.
- Only in It for the Money: Myras friend, Kitty, suggests that Myra should marry Roy to get his service pay. Averted with Myra since she doesnt want to use him.Kitty: Look at Agnes Ellen. She's got four husbands in the army: two Australians, one Yorkshireman and her own husband. She's collectin' separation allowances from all of them. And what's more, she's makin' 'em all happy. Of course, with Agnes, there is the risk that two or three of 'er husbands might get leave at the same time. But, that shouldn't bother you with only one on your hands!
- Pretty in Mink: An admirer of Myra gave her a fox fur, and its the only expensive thing she has.
- When Myra is killed, we only see her fox fur and purse thrown to the ground. Not so pretty.
- The Remake: So nice they remade it twice!