Reading web sites on Bette Davis one can find instances where authors claim that there is nothing special about her acting. I even found a site which claimed that Bette Davis' success was probably due to her luck. But Ms Davis films of 1934 tell quite the opposite. The most evident example are two films that she did only few weeks apart: Fog over Frisco and On Human Bondage. Characters she played in these movies, though both being negative, are quite different. Arlene in the former is a beautiful, glamorous and frivolous heiress and much more likable character than Mildred in the latter, which is a pale, uneducated and impudent Cockney waitress. Needless to say that Ms Davis played both characters very authentic and with the same enthusiasm. But even that is not all. The point is that the former role, which would be wished by most actresses of the day, was the one she was forced to play. The latter role, which seemed to most actresses as undesirable, career destroying role, was the one she fought for ferociously for months. And it was the latter role that launched her among the greatest stars. So there is no question that Ms Davis knew from the start what she was doing.
The film, which tells about a medical student Phillip Carey (Leslie Howard) which falls unhappily in love with Cockney waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis), has a few week points, but many more strong ones. The story is simply too big to be told in mere 83 minutes. For example, it is quite unclear why refined student found any interest in an impudent waitress in the first place. Well, there is one scene in which we are exposed to Ms Davis captivating eyes, but this is when his emotions are already fully evolved. Nevertheless, the integrity of the story is preserved by superior acting from Howard and Davis as well as fantastic Steiner's music which tells tons of emotions even when we do not see characters' faces. In fact the film is amalgamated by Phillip's walking sequences showing him from the back supplemented with shuddering two-tone repetition. Every detail is well thought - Max Steiner wrote a beautiful leitmotif for each women in Phillip's life, which is consistently used through the film. And a beautiful scene in which we see Sally's face in front of calendar is one of the sweetest scenes I've ever seen exactly due to Francis Dee's breathtaking beauty (Ms Dee was by the way considered to be too beautiful to play leading role in Gone with a Wind) as well as Steiner's captivating music. Camera movements between the some scenes is also original and refreshing.
But my strongest objection is that events are presented too two-dimensionally, which induce viewer that Mildred is an ultimate slut. The most disgusting characters ought to be men which lure her into relationship, despite well knowing that they will abandon her after taking use of her, but they, curiously, finished portrayed as likable characters. After all, Mildred always - in her own specific, but still a honest way - lets Phillip know that she despises him and had no interest in him. Which he just refuses to hear. It is Phillips masochistic nature connected to his club foot and infantile experiences that is the principal reason of his love problem. He is enslaved to his club foot as much as to Mildred and perhaps has to be free of both to start a normal life. Of course, selfish and impudent Mildred, after discovering voluntary Phillip's bondage to her, did its own share to make his life hell. Even taking into account that she exploded after realizing that the bondage has loosen, it is less than clear why would she burn Phillip's money (Maugham intended different in his novel). After all, she could as well steal it and drunk gallons of champagne.
For modern standards the film is a bit outdated, but each subsequent time you watch it, you can reveal new interesting details due to superior acting, fascinating music and original editing, so it does deserve the highest possible mark.
10 out of 13 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.