Of Human Bondage (1934)

Ring a Ding Ding

Of Human Bondage (1934)

     Bette Davis had not been on the Hollywood scene long before making the first of three incarnations of the adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage. She was sporting the platinum blonde hair she affected at the start of career to take on the look of many saucy starlets at the time. She soon gave that up not long after she would appear in roles showing off her serious talent. But Davis’ talent is not absent from Of Human Bondage. An irritating cockney accent and ever diminishing physical appearance that trends toward what today would be considered the crack-addict look accompany Davis in her role of a conniving young woman who uses a man’s affections to her own advantage.

     Leslie Howard plays the artist/medical student afflicted with a clubbed foot who falls for Davis’ character and cannot seem to shake his bond to her even once she has given him the air and he has found other, more suitable gals. When Davis’ Mildred gets pregnant by a married man, she returns to Howard’s Phillip to take care of her through a pseudo marital relationship. She next leaves to be with Phillip’s best friend who also dumps her, and back she goes. The cycle continues with Mildred becoming increasingly impoverished and run-down. In one scene her rage toward Phillip’s cold approach leads Mildred to slash his beloved artwork and set bonds meant to pay for medical school aflame. Director John Cromwell‘s composition of the story to this point does a great job of making this instance truly loathsome. I felt my blood boil as I witnessed her destruction of the things most dear to Phillip. The man is not home at the time, but I envisioned him stabbing her with the same knife with which she scars his paintings if I had been in his shoes.

      Davis is absolutely the reason to see this film. She was nominated for a Best Acress Oscar after successfully lobbying Warner Bros. to loan her out to RKO for the picture. The folks at Warners finally noticed the 26 year old and from then on began giving her more important roles, including a spot in Dangerous the following year, which secured her first Academy Award.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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One Response

  1. Amen. Great flic. I suspect Davis didn’t have to reach too far to find the right amount of nastiness.

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