Medical student Philip fall in love with Mildred, a waitress. Although she is a flirt, they have a love affair. But when Philip is told about her constant infidelity, they break up. Mildred quits her job and becomes a prostitute. But Philip is still in love with her. Written by
I read the book many years ago and it has remained one of my favorite novels. For many years since I read the book, whenever the film was shown on television, it was always the 1934 version with Bette Davis. Don't get me wrong, Bette Davis was a great actress, but for me she failed to come across as the writer Somerset Maugham had intended Mildred to be. The first time I caught the Davis version, I could only watch a few minutes of it before I gave up and could watch no longer, lest it ruin the impression of Mildred the book provided for me. Finally after many years of waiting, I caught the 1964 version and I wasn't disappointed. Someone on the message board mentioned that Somerset Maugham was most pleased with the way Kim Novak played the role and I could understand why. Immediately when I began watching Kim Novak, I was transfixed by her and felt that I had at last found Mildred as the writer intended her to be - not some shrill shrew, but an emotionally damaged beauty, still a child that had somehow made it to adulthood. It was easy to see how Philip, played perfectly by Laurence Harvey could have fallen in love with her - vulnerable, lovable, innocent, unsophisticated, always forgiving yet at the same time mean, selfish hateful, irresponsible, helpless, ignorant and vindictive. Aren't those the same characteristics we find in children? Some might question describing Mildred as innocent. Because of her promiscuous flirtatious nature, some might understandably dismiss her as a whore as Philip's best friend Griffiss continually tries to remind him. But this film is set in England of the Victorian era and some allowances can be made for that. And with Novak's great acting skills we see that Mildred was very complicated and we can't easily condemn her on the basis of her sexual misbehavior. This is what makes Novak's adaptation so appealing, that she can take this role and actually make us empathize with Mildred, if not actually see ourselves, like Philip, falling into the abyss by falling in love with her ourselves. This is what Kim Novak succeeded in doing and Bette Davis never even attempted. Bette Davis never developed the character to the degree that Novak did where we could see if she could pull it off. We could never feel much for the character Davis portrayed, but we could with Novak's - in spite of those same flaws that each of the actresses had to work with in the character of Mildred. Philip did in this saga come across other women with the best of qualities, and without those flaws found in Mildred though certainly not her beauty. But it was Mildred that would always be his great love -whether it destroyed him, as it nearly does, or finally her, as it does in the end. Only by her death could he ever escape the hold she had upon him. Kim Novak captured Mildred perfectly. Don't be put off by the IMDb's low rating for this movie relative to the Davis version. Read the book and you'll see right away that this was Mildred as the writer intended.
This film was set in Victorian England and it was perfectly suited for black and white format. It would have made as much sense to have made this movie in color as to have made the movie The Elephant Man in color. By using black and white, the film had the look and quality of that same movie, also set in Victorian England. Indeed, the story lines were similar in a sense - one of a good and gentle man trapped in a hideously deformed body that ultimately kills him. And in this, we have a cripple, and as Mildred herself often refers to him, a gentleman, who is also trapped, but unlike John Merek of the Elephant Man, in a relationship from hell that nearly destroys him as well. Philip as he confides to a friend when asked to describe his relationship with the now dead Mildred: "It is like a disease has burned through me. But not like one that one can see." Some might see parallels between the Elephant Man and Philip Carey. They are there.
Particularly sad to watch was the end of this movie. People sometimes note movies for their tear jerker quality - movies like Madam X, Imitation of Life, The Elephant Man and others. But this movie, because of the ending especially should be rated up there with any of those. In this movie, trains and train stations figured prominently in the most happiest of times in the relationship between Philip and Mildred. The final scene where Mildred is being lowered into her grave, a train passes, on a berm above this sad scene, probably the same train they had once ridden together happily in life and in love. The train seems to be saying good bye to her as we hear the rumble of train across the tracks and the mournful cry of the train's whistle. This happens as Philip turns his back on her for the last time to walk from her and to his new love waiting just outside the wrought iron gate of the cemetery. We can't but wonder if this new love he has found can ever release him from the grip that Mildred, if only her memory must still have upon him. This scene can't help but be emotionally emotionally wrenching for anyone who sees it. This is a great movie and a great credit to a great novel by Somerset Maugham and a great actress, Kim Novak who made it come alive for me. This film belongs way up there among the IMDb's 250 best movies of all time.
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