The interior life of a natural-born introvert is a tricky thing to convey in any story medium, but perhaps nowhere more than in feature films. Fortunately for this 1934 version of Of Human Bondage (the first of three), the... more » introverted young doctor at the center of the story is played by Leslie Howard, who makes a slack spirit and puppet-of-destiny ennui look like a GQ ad from the age of Romanticism. Howard's character, well liked by peers and facing a promising future, becomes a slave to self-destructive impulse when he grows obsessed with a mercurial, promiscuous waitress (Bette Davis). She stands him up, she lets him down, she sleeps around--basically doing anything she can think of to humiliate the plaintive, puppyish Howard. The good doctor's prospects soon sink... and then sink again and again every time she reappears, usually in dire circumstances, after prolonged absences. Much of Howard's performance borders on monotony, but how many ways can an actor show what it's like to lean against desks and ponder the enigma of himself? At least he looks classy while doing so. Meanwhile, Davis's electric performance, one of her best, gives director John Cromwell's slow pacing a shot in the arm. The supporting cast is very good: Alan Hale, Frances Dee, and Cromwell's then-wife, Kay Johnson, do a fine job helping to fill in the silences. Adapted from the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. --Tom Keogh« less
"Yes, this movie is "dated" in a stylistic sense, but so what. Davis and Howard are both so good it doesn't matter. And there is nothing dated about being hopelessly "in bondage" to something or someone - that realization is ultimately what makes the movie so depressing to watch. We can "identify" with Phillip's horrendous treatment at the hands of Mildred because he is obsessed beyond his ability to respond rationally.The film's most famous line...."You cad!, you dirty swine! I never cared for you not once! I was always makin' a fool of ya! Ya bored me stiff, I hated ya! It made me SICK when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me, ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH!"..... is so emotionally charged and devastating one can not help but relate to it at a gut level. The viewer is completely drawn in to Phillip's psyche and his unbearable pain. Davis is simply brilliant in this movie, and she utters this line as convincingly as any in her illustrious career.A five-star movie which I have to rate 4 because of the poor DVD transfer. No better than my VHS copy. Perhaps not much can be done to improve a movie this old but it appears that no effort was made to do so.Otherwise a classic in every sense."
Terrible Print Sloughed Off on Terrible DVD
Stephen M. H. Braitman | San Rafael, CA | 11/04/2003
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not commenting on the quality of the movie itself, but of the DVD. This DVD has been taken from a worn-out, scratchy, blurry, indistinct print. Other reviewers have commented that there is no discernible difference between VHS and DVD versions; no doubt there has been no movement by any organization or company to locate a better print. Beware of buying this for more than "cheapie, budget"prices. I recommend renting the DVD if you must see the movie; otherwise I'd be patient and wait for the day the movie is "rediscovered" and issued properly so that it can actually be seen and heard."
Great movie, but loses a star or two due to the shabby DVD
Joseph P. Menta, Jr. | Philadelphia, PA USA | 06/12/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If you take into account when this film was made and that the film medium was still developing its language, you'll likely enjoy "Of Human Bondage". It's well acted and- with its wide array of "let's see what we can do" directorial tricks and flourishes- entertainingly told.
Leslie Howard gives a low-key, effective performance, but it's Bette Davis who really shines. Ms. Davis realized correctly that it should be somewhat confusing to the other characters- and to us- why Leslie Howard's Philip character is so taken with her character, so she grounds her character with a kind of plainness and commonality. But she also realizes that there should be SOMETHING that we as viewers can touch on, so we can at least somewhat understand what is going on inside Philip. So Ms. Davis peppers the plainness of her character with occasional glints of edge, ice, passion, etc., things that a man would notice and be moved by, both in a positive and negative manner. These little glints of uniqueness nicely build to an emotional explosion at the end, so the quiet waitress and schemer doesn't all of a sudden become the bitter harpy who is so memorable at the end. It's a really effective performance, taking into account the future progression of the character right from the beginning.
Now the bad news. This particular DVD of the Bette Davis/Leslie Howard "Of Human Bondage" (the DVD company is called "Westlake") delivers a truly sub-par copy of this historic movie. It's watchable, but- with its faded print and scratchy soundtrack- barely so. There are also several close-ups of written letters in the film, and good luck trying to read them off the faded image.
So that's it in a nutshell. Great movie, lousy DVD. If there's any justice, a better DVD of this movie exists somewhere out there, or at least is on the way."
The fascinating film that made Bette Davis a star
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 02/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
"Bondage":The Ultimate Bitchy Bette Movie
J. Stearns | San Francisco, CA | 11/26/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Charged with electricity, intensity and style, it is no wonder that "Of Human Bondage" made Bette Davis the star we have all come to know and love (and love to hate) today. Mildred Rogers, a trampy waitress, uses and abuses a hapless man she meets, to get what she wants. You love to hate the character Davis portrays and though her cockney accent is at times noticeably put-on, she slides through the part with tremendous ease, taking charge of the screen, and Leslie Howard (the man she uses) and makes this movie all her own. She dared to do things no other actress would attempt to do and it is certainly clear why so many actresses turned down the role of Mildred when it was first suggested a film be made from W. Somerset Maugham's novel. She is not portrayed in the glamorous, beautiful sense that most actresses were portrayed in (regardless of character) back in the early 1930s and before. However, Bette Davis does capture your hearts, despite her portrayal and the scene in which she verbally bashes Leslie Howard is incredible."