Friday, 9 October 2015

Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage; drama, USA, 1934; D: John Cromwell, S: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Frances Dee

After presuming that he has no future as a painter, Philip Carey returns from Paris back to London, in order to study medicine. He has a club foot, and thus has a low self-esteem, which is exploited by a waitress, Mildred, in whom he is in love. She plays with him and treats him as a disposable toy. When Philip proposes her, she announces that she will marry Emile, another of her many suitors. However, after she gets pregnant and Emile leaves her, Mildred returns to Philip to ask him for money. She leaves him again for other men, but once broke, returns humbly to ask for more money in order for Philip to take care of her baby. Finally, Philip loses his patience and throws her out of his home. Mildred dies from a disease, while Philip marries Sally.

The first film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's eponymous novel, John Cromwell's "Of Human Bondage" is a bitter - and brutally honest - tale about the taboo topic of a "gold digger", i.e. an attractive woman who only exploits a good man for money by pretending to be in love with him - and then leaves as soon as his money runs out. Due to its timeless topic, the film caused quite a controversy during its premiere, and was subsequently one of the last pre-code films, yet precisely because of these elements, it still has sharpness. Leslie Howard is an excellent actor, and nails the timid, insecure protagonist Philip, but Bette Davis steals the show in a fantastic performance as Mildred, except for a minor flaw - she is too ugly to play a vamp woman, especially since Philip's other neglected women who fancy him, Norah and Sally, are far more prettier than her. Be it as it may, this does not stop Davis from conjuring up Mildred as a subtly selfish person, and one line of her early in the film - driving in a car after a date, Mildred turns around to Philip and says to him: "If you don't take me out, someone else will!" - perfectly sums up her character. The storyline is somehow too straightforward, lacking better dialogues or situations, and features a rather abrupt happy ending, yet it is overall a well made film, with the two stand-out performances.

Grade;++

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