Of Human Bondage

  • 1934
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Cautious adaptation of Somerset Maugham's tragic tale features the electric performance by Bette Davis that made her a star. Today, it looks a trifle much, but given time and circumstance--the stylized acting of the early sound era, and her desire to be noticed--it's a blistering job. Club-footed Philip Carey (Howard) studies painting in Paris but realizes...read more

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Cautious adaptation of Somerset Maugham's tragic tale features the electric performance by Bette Davis that made her a star. Today, it looks a trifle much, but given time and circumstance--the stylized acting of the early sound era, and her desire to be noticed--it's a blistering job.

Club-footed Philip Carey (Howard) studies painting in Paris but realizes that his work will never be more than second-rate, so he returns to England and begins to study medicine. Davis is Mildred, a blond tart whom he meets in the restaurant where she works as a waitress. She manipulates his

affection cruelly, but even though she later breaks off the relationship to marry Emil Miller (Hale) and he takes solace with sympathetic Norah (Johnson), Philip can only think of Mildred. When a pregnant Mildred returns after Emil has abandoned her, Philip takes her in, but she runs away again,

this time with Philip's friend Harry (Denny). And yet she returns one last time...

Thanks to wonderful performances by the leads, this version of the Maugham story is certainly the finest. Howard's quiet, studied performance is just right. Davis came by her role the hard way. After RKO acquired the novel for production, studio executives were shocked to learn that none of their

leading ladies wanted the part of the sluttish Mildred. Katharine Hepburn, Ann Harding, and Irene Dunne all rejected the role. Davis, however, was languishing in unimportant roles at Warners, and she began to lobby Jack Warner to loan her to RKO for the part. The actress threw herself into the

role, adopting a Cockney accent which she refused to discard when off-camera. She even supervised her own makeup so that it would convey Mildred's decline from syphilis. Davis's natural tendency to slouch worked very well for Mildred; within a few years this tendency would be gone for good. She

was profoundly disappointed when she failed to receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actress, but this film was her watershed picture.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Cautious adaptation of Somerset Maugham's tragic tale features the electric performance by Bette Davis that made her a star. Today, it looks a trifle much, but given time and circumstance--the stylized acting of the early sound era, and her desire to be no… (more)

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