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on 11 April 2005
W. Somerset Maugham's novel "Of Human Bondage" receives an excellent adaptation to the screen in this 1934 film directed by John Cromwell. Leslie Howard plays sensitive, club-footed Philip Carey, the second-rate artist who turns to the study of medicine, even though he is older than his classmates. Philip becomes tragically obsessed with Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis), an illiterate waitress in a tearoom near the medical school. Although Mildred insults him for being a cripple, Philip spurns an offer of romance from Nora (Kay Johnson), an attractive woman who writes romance novels under a male pseudonym. When Philips agrees to marry Mildred when she shows up pregnant and jilted by her salesman boyfriend (Alan Hale), she runs off with another med student (Reginald Denny) at their engagement party. A friendly patient (Reginald Owen) invites Philip home to meet his sensitive daughter Sally (Frances Dee). But Mildred returns again, this time with a baby, and Philip is too weak to refuse her. The result are disastrous consequences for them both.
Maugham's semi-autobiographical novel was published in 1915 and is considered his masterwork. By Hollywood standards, this film adaptation is remarkably faithful, not to mention literate and intelligent, so a lot of the credit has to go to Lester Cohen for the screenplay. Howard handles the role of the sensitive Philip well, but it is Davis who turned a lot of heads for the first time with her performance as the tawdry little waitress (Life magazine called it "Probably the best performance ever recorded on the screen by a U.S. actress"). Certainly this is the role that made Warner Brothers take a serious look at the young actress. What is remarkable is how much of this emotionally shattering tale is packed into 83 minutes of running time.
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Of Human Bondage, based on the novel by Somerset Maugham, is a powerful but melancholy film that I find strangely mesmerizing. Leslie Howard stars as Philip Carey, an introverted, artistic man who comes to London to study medicine after abandoning his dreams of becoming an artist in Paris. Carey was born with a club foot, and we watch rather mortified as one of his instructors makes him show his foot to the class, revealing the embarrassment that he normally keeps contained on the outside. One day in a nearby café, Carey sees waitress Mildred Rogers (played fabulously by Bette Davis), a rather ill-natured, brazenly taciturn waitress. Her attitude is rather rude and certainly strange and cold, but Carey is immediately fascinated by her. After inexplicably falling in love with Mildred, he succeeds in winning a few dates with her, putting up with her mind games, deception, and seeming lack of humanity. She is frustratingly noncommittal in everything he asks her, replying "I don't mind" to virtually all of his questions and allowing him almost no emotional contact with her at all. He finally resolves to ask her to marry him, but she shocks him by declaring her impending nuptials to another man. Carey's depression grows, and his grades in medical school suffer horribly. In time, he finds a young woman who is a bit matronly but genuinely cares for him. Then Mildred shows up again, pregnant and alone. He takes care of her with money he doesn't really have only to see her leave again with another man. This trend continues throughout the story. Whenever Carey finds happiness within his grasp, Mildred shows up unannounced, and he finds himself powerless to save himself from her debilitating influence on him.
Carey and Mildred are complicated creatures. While Mildred basically comes off as an unfeeling tramp, one can't help but believe that there is something human inside her that is genuinely attracted to Carey and the kind of gentlemanly life he can offer her, but her affections continually prove themselves fickle at best. As for Carey, his fatalistic love for Mildred makes no sense whatsoever, as she never fails to treat him harshly. Other women do come to love him deeply and truly, and Sally, the daughter of one of his patients, seems perfect for him, yet one strongly senses the fact that he can only truly love Mildred. It is really that part of the story and not the tragic life of Mildred herself which makes this movie so poignant and sad.
Of Human Bondage is the movie that made Bette Davis a verifiable star way back in 1934. Her performance is certainly fantastic, but she really provides only a hint of the actress she would become. The fact that her character is so impossibly self-serving and unfeeling makes it hard to identify with or like her (especially when she gets angry), yet Bette Davis makes her an unforgettable character of almost hypnotic fascination. I should say that Leslie Howard is also wonderful in this movie. The kind of aloof passive resistance he showed five years later in Gone With the Wind is a perfect match for the character of Philip Carey. He is almost incapable of standing up to fate, allowing his life to be brought to the point of ruin, both financial and emotional, by a woman who seemingly lives to torment him. I'm always left with a strange feeling after watching this movie, one of strange disquiet and sentimentality. Released in 1934, Of Human Bondage remains a powerful and compelling story of human passion, and Bette Davis' performance is eternally magical.
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on 16 July 2006
The WHE edition of this film uses a very old print and the quality isn't the best, however it is still watchable. If you are a film fanatic you may want to put your pennies towards the more expensive version, but if you like me are just curious to see this 1934 Bette Davis' movie that made her a star, then I would recommend a purchase. Leslie Howard as the weak Phillip is excellent as always, but Bette shows just how much of an actress she was in playing the tormenting and doomed Mildred. I would have given this more stars if it hadn't been for the print.
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on 18 September 2013
This version of the film is poor quality, with low definition and contrast and a noisy, flat soundtrack. Its a very old film and I don't know if there are better versions out there. I was mostly interested in Bette Davis's portrayal of the principal character which was, I must say, interesting rather than outstanding although there are nuances in her performance (on occasion) that are outstanding. It captures some of the feeling of the original novel although I feel some key parts are missing or have been changed to allow for cinematic continuity and length so the point is missed somewhat in places. The translation from Edwardian times to 1930s works just about.
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on 2 August 2009
The recording on this DVD seems very poor, hazy and juddery like watching an early silent movie. I've seen this film on TV and it wasn't like this. I enjoyed the film itself. Bette's cockney accent is very bizarre, but she's otherwise great as usual. The DVD itself is sub-standard, but cost less than £3 at the time so I don't feel ripped off, but the Bette Davis box sets I've bought from Amazon (100th Anniversary Collection and the Bette Davis Collection) are fantastic and I would recommend them first, by a million miles.
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on 30 July 2015
Have never been tempted to view, but now I have was impressed. Only grating irritation was the fake English accent by Bette, but you soon get lost in the superb acting and horribleness of her character. Well worth a view.
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on 5 January 2013
A potentially great adaptation of the W Somerset Maugham novel ruined by the strange casting of Bette Davis as a supposedly alluring Cockney waitress. Her accent is worse than that of Dick Van Dyke in 'Mary Poppins' (and that's saying something!), and she has virtually no sex appeal. We just cannot believe that Leslie Howard's character would prefer her over the other women that come into his life. At least Davis showed early signs of the nastiness that carried her through the rest of her career, but she should never have been given this role.
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on 3 August 2008
I do love Bette Davis, I think she just exudes glamour and nostalgia from my favourite decade, the 30s. However, (not going into the quality of the actual DVD because it's awful and crackles constantly)the film appears to lack something. I will not agree with people who say that because films are not blockbusters or are maybe sold a bit cheaper they are automatically awful because I have seem many fantastic films that are hardly known. However even though the pairing of Davis and Howard would appear flawless, the acting is surprisingly static and the actors do not actually seem to mesh well, seeming to perform individually rather than together when they are in the same scenes. I liked the story,but I'm sorry to say the acting was not up to much and therfore I cannot rate this highly.
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on 5 June 2015
this is a lovely old film, based on a wonderful novel. I saw it years ago and wanted to see it again. I am keeping it for when I go away in November to stay at a cottage by the sea. it will be great for a wet afternoon-and friends can't fail to like it as well.
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on 7 April 2015
This DVD is from the thirteen era when the actress Betty Davis was at the start of her long film career, the lead man in it is the late Lesly Fowerd, he plays a man who has a deformed foot and goes into a cafe while there he meets a waitress played by Miss Davis and falls in love with her.
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