Of Human Bondage (1934) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
96 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Still gives me goosebumps!
ClassicAndCampFilmReviews26 November 2004
Bette Davis became a star with her role in this first and best film adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel of the same name (well worth a read). This was her first nomination for an Academy Award, for her portrayal of Mildred Rogers; a tawdry, sluttish, cockney waitress who bewitches hapless Philip Carey (Leslie Howard, best known for his role as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone With the Wind"). She lost the award, receiving it for her role the following year for "Dangerous", which is generally viewed as a consolation prize.

The supporting cast includes Reginald Denny, Alan Hale Sr. (father of Alan Hale Jr., who was the skipper on the TV series "Gilligan's Isle"), and a breathtakingly beautiful Frances Dee.

The film starts out with Philip, a failed art student with a clubfoot of which he is highly sensitive, turning to the study of medicine after facing the fact that he has no artistic talent. Shortly thereafter he meets and quickly becomes obsessed with Mildred, despite her sneering and obvious disdain for him because of his deformity. Her standard response to his affectionate overtures is a chilly "I don't mind." In his dreams Mildred is sweet and kind to him; during real time she uses him, well aware of his affection for her, leaving him for other men and returning when she is down on her luck, ruining his chance for having a career or a normal life with another woman; he seems to continually finds himself inexorably drawn to her, even after his love for her has waned, until the day she finally pushes him too far.

At that point, the camera fully turns to Mildred as her facial expression shifts from supplication to shock to full-on bitch in a matter of seconds, and she reacts to Philip's statement with a barrage of blood-curdling insults. Bette Davis as Mildred never fails to raise the hair on the back of my neck and arms with her performance in this particular scene.

This is the role that made Davis a star. It's also one of my all-time favorite Davis films, along with such others as "The Little Foxes", "The Letter", and "All About Eve".
33 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
That darn Bette Davis!
donta4900111 April 2006
I just saw "Of Human Bondage" for the first time a few days ago and WOW! What a mysterious and almost spooky film. I loved how the music went with the pace of each step of Philip's feet. It gave me the chills for some reason...

One of the greatest aspects of this film is that you get to see Bette Davis coming into herself right before your eyes. She's great, not necessarily because this is her best work, but because it was so out of the ordinary to be so vicious, gritty, and unflinching as an actress in 1934... Bette was a risk taker, always wanting to be different and this is right about when she started to realize that she could be as nasty and daring as she wanted and people would love her for it. If you're a true lover of film, it's amazing to see...

She just had a way of delivering a line that made the part, and the film for that matter, belong to her. Like "A mass of music and fire. That's me...an old kazoo and some sparklers" or "But you are Blanche, you are in that chair!" or "WITH ALL MY HEART, I STILL LOVE THE MAN I KILLED!!"... Those are from a few of her films, but you get my drift. She was just so brave, sassy, and exotic looking with those beautiful big eyes. After seeing this, I can't believe it was remade twice...

Leslie Howard was gorgeous...so calm and persistent, needing to be loved. I thought he was adorable and couldn't understand how everyone wasn't falling for him, but then again, everyone was...except Mildred. He did a great job...

The only thing that I didn't like was something that was common with the writing in the early films. They'd make a character so hateful that it's almost unbelievable that someone would actually fall for them in the first place. The performances were great, but in real life, Philip would have never been interested in Mildred. That's just the simple truth... See it!!
9 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A True Classic
tamstrat17 May 2005
This movie, even though it is over 70 years old is still a very moving, strong film. Bette Davis, as the slutty, vicious Cockney waitress Mildred is absolutely believable. Watching her performance is still spellbinding. She makes the viewer absolutely despise her and pity her at the same time. Leslie Howard's performance as the weak, obsessed Phillip Carey is not as strong, but I don't see how any actor could hold their own against Ms. Davis's performance. She chews up the scenery in every scene she is in, totally stealing the show. This is the movie that sealed her stardom and she deserved to win the Academy Award, but lost. It was shocking for it's day what with themes of unwed pregnancy, multiple sex partners, and Mildred's vicious language so it is somewhat dated, but still an excellent movie. Just to see the scene where Mildred tells Phillip what she REALLY thinks of him ("You cad, you dirty swine....") is still some of the greatest acting I have ever seen on film.
32 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Role She Fought For
bkoganbing30 October 2005
If Jack Warner had had his way, Bette Davis would have wound up playing all kinds of molls in various Warner Brothers gangster films. Of Human Bondage was a significant milestone in her career because she proved to everyone, including herself, that she was capable of so much more.

Like Frank Sinatra with Angelo in From Here to Eternity, Davis knew she was born to play the slatternly amoral Mildred from W. Somerset Maugham's classic novel. Though she rarely used false accents in her movie career after this, she got the Cockney speech pattern down perfect. Davis will keep you riveted to your seat with her performance her. And what a scandal it was that she wasn't nominated. I suspect some intrigue was at work there, possibly the brothers Warner who didn't want her to get a swelled head. Also she'd gotten this break through role at another studio so they weren't going to make a dime on it.

Two years later Leslie Howard and Bette Davis would team up again in The Petrified Forest. But what a contrast between the dreamy naive Gabby and Mildred. The same with the male leads. In The Petrified Forest, Leslie Howard is the world weary blasé Alan Squire. In Of Human Bondage, Howard's Philip Carey is a shy man with a deep inferiority complex because of his club foot. He clings to Mildred because even though she's degraded him, he feels he'll never find another attachment again.

For both the leads Of Human Bondage represented a considerable stretching of considerable talents. The two later screen versions are markedly inferior to this one.
50 out of 65 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The movie that put Davis on the map.
nycritic11 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
After 21 movies and three years of working in Hollywood Bette Davis finally got a role she claimed as her own and which put her as a force to be reckoned with. As Mildred Rogers, Davis burst forth with a completely unsympathetic role of a slutty waitress who becomes the target of Leslie Howard's affections, and already eager to sink her teeth into a role like this, she had no qualms of the awful things her character was meant to do throughout the course of the film and the awful transformation she would undergo. It also has been widely noted that her performance here, one of the few things that makes this slightly uneven movie watchable, has been the one to remember even after two remakes and the scenes where she rips into Howard have made cinema history.

At circa 85 minutes, the story moves at a nice pace, telling the story of Philip Carey (Howard) as his life crosses that of the destructive Mildred Rogers over and over again.

Howard and Davis' chemistry is all but non-existent -- Davis sustained in an interview much later in life she personally didn't care much for Howard's iciness towards her and that helped her act even worse (in character) towards him as Mildred. All the same, the two seem awkward with one another; their scenes together remain stiff, only salvaged by the ferocious acidity Davis brings to her lines and her own nervous presence. Then again, Cromwell's direction has a certain stiltedness about itself that fails to come through at times -- he tries to fill in some space (whenever Davis is not there) with dissolves and montages indicating the passing of time (a calendar superimposed over a changing Frances Dee). All much in the style back then. This was before technicalities and complicated camera angles came into being, and in essence, the visual story is a simplified, bare essentials translation of the Somerset Maugham's novel -- which is saying a lot, since at 600 pages, "Of Human Bondage" would have been indeed hard to film even then.

Storywise, it feels that Philip Carey may be something of a glutton for punishment, since there is no discernible, sexual attraction between he and Mildred and to compound that, Mildred never hides her displeasure from the get-go. Howard's performance never seems to go through much external emotion -- his eyes are constantly sad, his expression never veers too far away from lost (he could almost be a distant cousin to William Hurt in "The Accidental Tourist" -- dejected, hurt, and absolutely passive), but this is possibly a part of his character and the reason he fails to see that other women (played by Kay Johnson and Frances Dee) are making themselves vulnerable to unrequited affections. Interestingly, Johnson's Norah, once she realizes Carey will never fall for her, is the one who sums the story up with her observation that people are bound to other people -- she is bound to Carey as Carey is bound to Mildred, and Mildred herself is bound to Miller (or men who fit the role of provider). In her short but memorable scene, she's the one who holds the essence of the story's moral.
41 out of 54 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
IMDb Votes Conclude...
richbh6 September 2008
...that the Bette Davis version of this film was better than the Kim Novak version.

Despite all of the other comments written here, I really prefer the Bette Davis version, even though the Novak version has a more coherent story line.

However: Davis' Mildred's raw emotions seem to me to be more apt to a sluttish girl who seems easily to become a prostitute.

And it is those raw emotions that constitute *part* of what the poor doctor falls in love with. He has emotions of despair, of failure, of "otherness" - strong emotions that he represses. Davis' Mildred, on the other hand, displays her emotions immediately and without censure. She has no feelings of despair, or of failure, or of "otherness"; rather, she is merely surviving as a poor Cockney woman in the Victorian era.

Novak's portrayal was a more vulnerable Mildred than was Davis', almost through the the whole movie. Davis' Mildred was **never** vulnerable until she actually had to go to the doctor and beg for assistance. And when he reviles her - for her method of keeping body and soul together, and for continually taking advantage of his love for her - she unleashes arguably the most passionate repudiation of snobbish holier than thou attitude ever seen on screen: "I wiped my mouth! I WIPED MY MOUTH!!" Novak's vulnerability was excellent. Davis' realism was monumental.

IMDb votes concur!
19 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The First Version (of three) is Still the Best
lawprof23 May 2004
Coming shortly before the imposition of a morality code darkened the spirits of writers, directors and actors, the first film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" titillated countless moviegoers. It has no shock value today, just fine acting.

While the cast is excellent, this is Bette Davis's first great role and one of Leslie Howard's best performances. Howard is English wannabe Parisian artist Philip Carey who is gently and firmly told that he lacks any talent and that his dedication is no substitute for true genius. Taking the lesson to heart he returns to London and enrolls in a medical college (one, by the way, that seems to have no female students-at that time there would have been at least a few. Perhaps author/physician Maugham didn't care for distaff medicos).

Having tea one day Carey is entranced by a waitress, Mildred Rogers, Bette Davis in a role as a morally loose and basically wicked farrago. Her Cockney accent is as sharp as Eliza Doolittle's. His repeated attempts to date her are greeted with the less than enthusiastic reply, "I don't mind," a sure sign for any man with his head screwed on straight that he's plumbing the depths. Maugham's Mildred supplemented her waitress tips with a bit of old fashioned street-walking, something not clearly brought out here.

Carey's besotted prostration serves Rogers' avaricious need for support of the financial kind. He is desperately in love with her-she plays him as a Sunday church organist effortlessly plies her instrument. No sex here. Recognizing that he is getting nowhere, he begins a chaste relationship with Norah, a woman who adores him. Re-enter Mildred, replete with a baby, and in her usual need of being taken care of. Exit heartbroken Norah.

Another separation from Mildred and Carey begins a long-term friendship with Sally, abetted enthusiastically by her dad who seems to view eventual marriage as both a good thing for the two young people and a chance to be relieved of one of his nine offspring.

The movie reasonably but not entirely follows Maugham's excellent novel. Howard's Carey is naive and vulnerable and for much of the movie his sad eyes remind one of a doe facing a double-barreled shotgun. Mildred is unrestrainedly wicked, a user of the worst kind, her sole preoccupation with her own needs barely disguised when she tries to wheedle Carey with a thin patina of affectionate words (and offers-at one point she promises she'll do "anything [he] wants," a daring statement for the times and one I'm sure audiences fully understood.

Pre-Code it may be but Mildred's quick-march dissolution would have satisfied the League of Catholic Decency. The ending is conventional-sin loses, principled behavior triumphs.

Director John Cromwell wrought excellent performances from his two main stars, one well-established, the other established largely because of this film. The atmosphere is 1930s London and the trip back in time is worth taking.

Available on DVD.

9/10 (for Davis's and Howard's performances)
30 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Bette is first noticed!
Schlockmeister12 January 2000
A good, historical movie for the Bette Davis fan in that this is the first movie where she was noticed, based on her merits as an actress. This was a role that was offered to others, but "others" thought that playing such an evil "belladonna" role would harm their career. Bette never flinched from playing the "bitch" and it helped push her career forward. Bette does a good job in this story of an evil woman and the man who just won't/can't let her go. As another writer here has stated, this should be required viewing by young men. The scary thing is, there truly ARE such women out there. A cautionary tale that delivers..
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Bette Davis is electrifying!!!!
kidboots20 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Bette Davis' electrifying performance is such that it is hard to remember the other female players. They were as perfect in their parts as Davis was in hers - they just didn't have as much to do. Some of the reviewers felt that the book was so much better - it was but to give the film it's due, to condense a 600 page book down to 83 minutes is no mean feat. The first part of the book didn't even make it to the screen - it told of Phillip's childhood, then moved to Germany and Paris, where Phillip had gone to try to make good as an artist. It also chronicles his first romance - with Fanny Price, who kills herself when she realises Phillip cannot return her feelings of love. It is a wonderful book but rambling and I think that anyone who does not think too highly of the film should read the book and will realise how good the film is.

After realising that he will only ever be a mediocre painter, Phillip Carey (Leslie Howard) comes back to England hoping to take up medicine. When out at a tearoom he meets a sullen waitress, Mildred (Bette Davis). Even though she has no interest in him and basically treats him like dirt, Phillip is obsessed. It is so hard to watch his efforts at trying to find any civility in this vicious shrew. In one scene she promises to meet him in a second class railway waiting room, when they almost miss each other, she berates him with "why would I wait in a second class waiting room when there is a first class one available". You just want to shake him. The only time she is pleasant to him is when she tells him she is going to marry another man, a coarse sales- man, Emile Miller (Alan Hale). With Mildred out of the picture, he meets Nora (Kay Johnson) a lovely woman, who writes romantic novels under a male pseudonym. She jokes about the popularity the books enjoy among servants (in the novel he had seen Mildred reading them.) Nora gives Phillip all the love and confidence he needs but he is incapable of returning her love. When Mildred returns (Miller didn't marry her and she is having a baby), of course he takes care of her and helps her with the baby (in the film it is treated as an object - always called "baby", never given a name or gender) - she repays him by running off with his best friend.

At the hospital he meets Sally Athelny (Frances Dee) who is visiting her sick father. He begins to visit her home and for the first time in his life gets a sense of family. Then surprise! surprise! Mildred returns like a bad penny and surprise! Philip takes her in. But he has changed and feels only disgust when she tries to show gratitude the only way she knows how. Then follows one of the most vicious, verbal fights on film with phrases such as "you cad, you dirty swine", "I only kissed you because you begged me" and "when you went I wiped my mouth, I WIPED MY MOUTH"!!! In the book a lot of Mildred's stock phrases such as "you're a gentleman in every sense of the word", "I don't mind", and "Mr. High and Mighty" were associated with prostitutes and when Phillip meets her for the first time he is struck by that.

The end of the film shows Phillip (being truly free of Mildred in the only way possible) now free to love Sally. Again in the book Sally tells Phillip that she thinks she is having a baby but that just makes him more sure of his love. That ending, like Mildred's "sickness" could not be in the film - even a pre-code one.

Kay Johnson was always called on to play sensible, believable women - which she played to perfection as she was obviously sensible herself. Her Nora was the woman Philip should have stayed with. Frances Dee was one of the most beautiful of screen ingenues. She was obviously being groomed for stardom with some roles that proved she was not just a pretty face ("The Silver Cord" and "Blood Money") but when she married Joel McCrea her career started to peter out. Her Sally did not push her talent to the limits. Apparently Leslie Howard was not very helpful to Bette Davis on the set - he was annoyed that an English actress was not given the part. He used to throw her her lines "whilst reading a book off camera". He did start to take an interest when a newspaper reported "the kid was running away with the picture"!!!

Highly, Highly Recommended.
8 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Unleashing the Soul of Great Actor by Withholding an Oscar
Dr_March25 September 2007
Every motion picture Bette Davis stars in is worth experiencing. Before Davis co-stars with Leslie Howard in "Of Human Bondage," she'd been in over a score of movies. Legend has it that Davis was 'robbed' of a 1935 Oscar for her performance as a cockney-speaking waitress, unwed mother & manipulative boyfriend-user, Mildred Rogers. The story goes that the AFI consoled Davis by awarding her 1st Oscar for playing Joyce Heath in "Dangerous." I imagine Davis' fans of "Of Human Bondage" who agree with the Oscar-robbing legend are going to have at my critique's contrast of the 1934 film for which the AFI didn't award her performance & the 1936 film "Dangerous," performance for which she received her 1st Oscar in 1937.

I've tried to view all of Bette Davis' motion pictures, TV interviews, videos, advertisements for WWII & TV performances in popular series. In hindsight, it is easy to recognize why this film, "Of Human Bondage," gave Davis the opportunity to be nominated for her performance. She was only 25yo when the film was completed & just about to reach Hollywood's red carpet. The public began to notice Bette Davis as a star because of her performance in "Of Human Bondage." That is what makes it her legendary performance. But, RKO saw her greatness in "The Man Who Played God," & borrowed her from Warners to play Rogers.

I'm going to go with the AFI, in hindsight, some 41 years after their astute decision to award Davis her 1st Best Actress Oscar for "Dangerous," 2 years later. By doing so, the AFI may have been instrumental in bringing out the very best in one of Hollywood's most talented 20th century actors. Because, from "Of Human Bondage," onward, Davis knew for certain that she had to reach deep inside of herself to find the performances that earned her the golden statue. Doubtless, she deserved more than 2 Oscars; perhaps as many as 6.

"Dangerous" provides an exemplary contrast in Davis' depth of acting characterization. For, it's in "Dangerous" (1936) that she becomes the greatest actor of the 20th century. Davis is so good as Joyce Heath, she's dead-center on the red carpet. Whereas in "Of Human Bondage," Davis is right off the edge, still on the sidewalk & ready to take off on the rest of her 60 year acting career.

Perhaps by not awarding her that legendary Oscar in 1935, instead of a star being born, an actor was given incentive to reach beyond stardom into her soul for the gifted actor's greatest work.

It is well known that her contemporary peer adversary was Joan Crawford; a star whose performances still don't measure up to Davis'. Even Anna Nicole Smith was a 'star'. Howard Stern is a radio host 'star', too. Lots of people on stage & the silver screen are stars. Few became great actors. The key difference between them is something that Bette Davis could sense: the difference between the desire to do great acting or to become star-struck.

Try comparing these two movies as I have, viewing one right after the other. Maybe you'll recognize what the AFI & I did. Davis was on the verge of becoming one of the greatest actors of the 20th century at 25yo & achieved her goal by the time she was 27. She spent her next 50 plus years setting the bar so high that it has not been reached . . . yet.

Had the AFI sent her the message that she'd arrived in "Of Human Bondage," Davis' life history as a great actor may have been led into star-struck-dom, instead.
34 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Classic and the best adaptation based on the Somerset Maugham's story
ma-cortes23 May 2006
The movie concerns about Philip ( Leslie Howard ) , he's a serious but handicapped medicine student . He falls fatally in love with a heartless , predatory waitress named Mildred( Bette Davis ) . She leaves him , engaging with other suitors ( Alan Hale, Reginald Denny ). Meanwhile he is romanced with other women ( Kay Johnson, Frances Dee ) but she goes back in a mutually destructive affair.

Easily the best and first of the numerous versions on Somerset Maugham's novel . Bette Davis as the cockney cruel waitress winning yet another magnificent interpretation with an alluring and smoldering role , absolutely hypnotic in her account of the bondage , a sadomasochist relationship that occurs from the beginning to the end . Davis rose the stardom with her performance that put her on the map in Hollywood . Her role as sluttish and crude domineering woman will be repeated several times in his posteriors acting . Leslie Howard as the essentially good and decent student subtly destroyed gives an excellent and melancholic performance. He was an awesome actor ( Gone with the wind ), besides producer and writer , though unfortunately died in plane crash during WWII . Both of them will play again in ¨ Petrified forest ¨(1936) . The atmosphere of the film is elaborately recreated in the RKO ( Radio Picture Inc ) studio and is entirely convincing . Remade in 1946 by Edmund Goulding , with Eleanor Parker and Paul Henreid ; and in 1964 by Ken Hughes with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey . The motion picture will appeal to classic cinema buffs. Rating : Very good but a little bit dated.
14 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A star is born!
verna5527 November 2000
After laboring in Hollywood for nearly four years, playing one nothing role after the other in one forgettabe film after the other, Davis won the role of a lifetime. That of slatternly waitress Mildred Rogers, the 'bitch' heroine of Somerset Maugham's classic story. Davis in BONDAGE is an example of an actress's triumph. Lester Cohen's script, making for a picture that runs in length 83 minutes, is breezy and admittedly fails to capture all of the qualities that made Maugham's book such a compulsive read. But Bette Davis' performance in BONDAGE makes the film every bit as good as the book itself. She is absolutely fascinating. Her role of Mildred is as spiteful and bitchy as they come. Yet Bette plays the part so well that you can't help but root for her. That's not to say that she doesn't overdo it at times. But she is clearly into the role and rightfully so. Having played so many thankless background parts(secretaries, gun molls, etc.), this was her chance to break loose and show critics and audiences alike her full capabilities as an actress, and did she ever! Even keeping in mind all of the memorable Davis movie moments that followed, Mildred Rogers still remains her most stunning achievement. The great British actor Leslie Howard, playing the club-footed medical student who becomes infatuated with Mildred, seems over-powered, and possibly intimidated by his co-star. Oh yes, Davis was not yet a full-fledged star and was supposed to be playing second fiddle to the already distinguished Howard, but with BONDAGE, that situation quickly reversed. Shockingly, Davis didn't receive so much as an Oscar nomination for her brilliant performance, and when she won a year later for the tired melodrama DANGEROUS, everyone(including Bette herself) assumed it was out of sympathy for not receiving her full due for this film.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Well thought in every detail - acting, editing and music
marko-15724 September 2007
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.
An incredible film of the greatest human tragedy
shiest17510 August 2013
Much has been said regarding Bette Davis's outbreak performance in "Of Human Bondage" and I would certainly never argue it - her acting is magnificent. As is Leslie Howard's ....the two play off of each other perfectly - Howard as the shy, introverted and self-conscious "lonely man" and Davis as the brash, insensitive and malicious waitress. But it's the message of this movie that is so powerful, Davis and Howard are simply the messengers, albeit great ones.

"Of Human Bondage" is the story of unrequited love, and hopeless bondage to another. Right from the outset, the relationship Between Philip and Mildred is doomed to failure, as is Howard's to Norah after Mildred leaves him. After all - what can one really offer someone whom they do not love? It really makes no difference whether it's Midred's abusive behavior towards Philip - who is basically obsessed with her, or Philip's cool (yet still very caring) indifference towards Norah, who adores him. The end result is the same. Perhaps this movie can only really speak to those that have been through it - but most of us probably have, as this is one of the great tragic human conditions. Person A loves person B, but they love person C, and so it goes.

Forget the somewhat dated dialogue and sound quality, and watch a film that transcends most others with powerful acting and an even stronger message.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
That anemic little witch!
pocca28 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The story is somewhat stilted, what with the main character's sudden reversals of fortune, but Leslie Howard and Bette Davis's portrayals of Philip Carey, the naïve obsessed lover and Mildred Rogers, the unworthy object of his affections, raise this film considerably above standard melodrama.

Sensitive, cultured Philip, who for most of the picture is in bondage to first his infatuation and then his pity for Mildred is not unlike a character Howard was to play a few years later--Ashley Wilkes, the Southern gentleman too refined and decent to make it in the rough Reconstruction era. Philip in fact seems resigned to disappointment even before Mildred enters the picture—he doesn't even seem particularly surprised when his art teacher tells him he'll never make it as a painter. It is perhaps this passivity, these lowered expectations that makes him put up with the selfish Cockney waitress for as long as he does.

Although Leslie Howard is memorable, today "Of Human Bondage" is mainly thought of as a Bette Davis picture, perhaps because of the well known story of how she had to fight Jack Warner to get the part of Mildred, and perhaps too because movie audiences tend to prefer characters with her sort of brash energy. Mildred may have a grating voice, but she also has the ethereal beauty of a stained glass angel, making it somewhat understandable why Philip let himself be strung along for as long as he did. Although man eating Mildred may at times seem one dimensional, she does evoke sympathy in the viewer from time to time as when she becomes ill and belatedly realizes that Philip is the only decent man who ever cared for her. One may also think she is on to something when she accuses Philip of looking down on her for not being "fine" enough. (The scene in which Philip and Norah dismiss romance magazines as trash for kitchen maids seems to confirm this).

Most of the supporting characters are also effective, particularly Norah the sensible romance writer who loves Philip but knows she can never compete with Mildred and Sally who has Mildred's beauty and Norah's decency and emerges as the deserving woman Philip is rewarded with in the end. The only character I found hollow was Sally's eccentric, ale slurping aristocratic father who seems like a stock character from an earlier era.

A classic that deserves it reputation.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
You Dirty Swine!.. I Never Cared For You Not Once!
sol-kay5 February 2005
**SPOILER ALERT** W. Somerset Maugham classic on film about a love obsessed young man who's abused hurt and humiliated by the object of his obsession to the point of losing everything he has only to find true love in the end under the most unusual circumstances.

Leslie Howard plays the role of Philip Carey a sensitive young artiest in Paris trying to make a living by selling his paintings. Told by a local art expert that his work is not at all good enough to be sold to the art going public Philip decides to go back to his native England and study medicine and become a physician in order to help others.

Philip being born with a club foot is very hypersensitive about his awkward condition and makes up for that by being a very pleasant and friendly person. One afternoon Philip is at a local café with a fellow medical student and spots pretty waitress Mildred Rogers, Bette Davis, and immediately falls in love with her. Mildred at first rebuffs the love-sick Philip but later realizing just what a sap he is takes advantage of his feelings for her. Mildred has him spend himself into poverty buying her gifts and taking her out to the theater every time she off from work. Phlip also falls behind on his studies, by paying so much attention towards Mildred, at the medical university and fails his final exams.

Going into hock buying an engagement ring for Mildred in an attempt to ask for her hand in marriage the cold hearted Mildred tells the startled Philip that she's already engaged to be married to Emil Miller, Alan Hale. It turns out that he's one of the customers at the café that she's always flirting with.

Philip broke and heart-sick slowly get his life back together and later retakes his medical exam and passes it and at the same time finds a new love in Nora, Fay Johnson, a writer for a local love magazine. Later to Philip's shock and surprise Mildred walks back into his life.

Mildred telling Philip that her husband Emil, who's child she's carrying, threw her out of the house has the kind and understanding Philip take her back at the expense of Nora who was very much in love with him. It later turns out that Mildred wasn't married to Emil but had a child out of wedlock by having an illicit affair with him! Emil it turns out was already married.

As before Mildred takes advantage of Philip's kind heart for her and her baby daughter, where he supports them with food medical attention and shelter, to the point where he again goes broke and can't continue his studies ending with her leaving Philip; after having a very heated and emotional encounter with him. Out on the streets with nowhere to go Philip is taken in by Mr. Athanly, Reginald Owens, who he once treated at the hospital and falls in love with his daughter Sally, Frances Dee.

Later Philip has his club foot corrected at the medical center and with the help of Mr. Athenly gets back to being a doctor. It's then when he encounters Mildred again who's really at the end of her rope. Dying of tuberculosis and having lost her daughter she's all alone with no one to look after her. Philip now well to do and respected in medical circles does all he can to help the sick and poor Mildred but in the end she succumbed to her illness and passes away.

Mildred had the love and devotion in Philip all those years that he was in love with her but choose to abuse him and have affairs with man who were just like her, cold unfeeling and selfish. In the end Mildred got back just what she gave to the kind and sensitive Philip: She became both unloved and alone. Philip found in the sweet and caring Sally everything that Mildred wasn't and in the end also found the true love that he was looking for all of his life.
19 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A coldly amusing Bette Davis performance
marxsarx7 February 2003
Bette Davis turns in a coldly amusing performance as Mildred Rogers in this 1934 film. The film seems rather dated now in 2003. It is no doubt well worth watching for film buffs and Bette Davis fans but may not have as much appeal for the average movie watcher today. It was startling for me to see how young Ms. Davis looks in this move. The actors turn in performances which are basically sound and the story is meaningful and interesting. Leslie Howard is well cast as Philip Carey, the club-footed medical student. This is a film with a strong message about whom we choose to love and why. However, "Of Human Bondage" didn't seem to have a strong impact on me mentally or emotionally. I felt slightly indifferent and detached about the movie after viewing it. I have an intuition that this may be the reaction that the director was going for. You be the judge!
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Over-rated, yet Groundbreaking Portrayal and Film
krdement10 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I do not think this is a movie about love. It is a movie that compares and contrasts MANY human emotions that hold us in bondage - most notably, love and obsession. I pity people who think that what Philip (Howard) feels for Mildred (Davis) is LOVE! Of the 3 versions of this Somerset Maugham tale, this one is the weakest.

Davis' Mildred is physically unattractive, mentally deranged, intellectually stunted, spiritually empty, and emotionally disturbed and inaccessible. To compensate for her shortcomings, she treats Philip with contempt! Hey, what's not to love? Philip's obsession with such a creature is unimaginable! Even as allegory, this is too much of a stretch!

For my money, both of the remakes are better movies. Eleanor Parker and Kim Novak both portray a Mildred who is prettier and less shrewish - and consequently more believable. Mildred becomes both more understandable and more pathetic. Also, because they are both prettier than Davis obsession with either one of them is a great deal more conceivable.

This film and Bette Davis' performance may have been groundbreaking, but neither one is great. Davis' performance leaves indelible impressions; however, it is not very nuanced. She is nothing but a shrew. Moreover, she is simply not pretty enough to inspire Howard's obsession with her. Davis' one-note performance and lack of beauty render the character of Philip incomprehensible. This film and this portrayal by Davis are classic not because they are great, but because they are groundbreaking.

Also, Leslie Howard's Philip, while sensitive and intellectual, is a real weakling. I like Paul Henried in the 1946 version much better. Maybe not as sensitive or intellectual, but not nearly as weak. I think a woman is more likely to feel sympathy or pity for Howard, NOT love. Henried seems more "lovable." After all, 2 women actually do love Philip!

This is a must-see for people interested in films for their historic significance. But for somebody interested in entertainment, I recommend both of the other versions of this film.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A true classic not so much...
dierregi19 December 2011
Even if I was not expecting a full take on the long and complex novel, as I knew it focused on the gloomy romance between Philip and Mildred, I was nevertheless disappointed by this movie. Having read the book, I had my ideas about Philip, the character played by Leslie Howard. After all, he is a rather complex character– a shy, reserved boy, with an adventurous and daring side.

Unfortunately, the script makes a complete wimp out of Philip and Leslie Howard certainly did not help with his very passive interpretation. Perhaps my total lack of appreciation for Howard contributed to the general feeling of disappointment about the movie.

As mentioned by other reviewers, the movie comes alive only because of Bette Davis. She plays perfectly Mildred, the truly despicable maid. A cold, unfeeling, selfish, ignorant creature, so stupid to destroy the only man who loves her and herself along the way.

Mildred is one of the most senselessly self-destructive characters ever. From the moment she enters the movie the audience – and Philip – are aware of what sort of creature she is. Her attitude is rude, she is vulgar and dismissive. It is almost impossible to understand what pushes Philip to pursue her, considering how she thrashes him.

Also, given the cold approach of Howard, it is almost impossible to believe his character is so madly in love with her. The total lack of chemistry between Howard and Davis ruins the movie. Some of their scenes are cringe-inducing and involuntarily comic. The worst one involves Philip inviting one of his classmates to spend an evening with Mildred and him, and acting like a voyeur to their shameless flirting behavior. It is just impossible to watch without wondering what sort of man would stand that sort of humiliation.

On a side note, it is interesting to note that Davis did not look particularly good at the beginning of the movie, with her classic 30's make-up (pencil thin, wide apart eyebrows which did nothing to make her bulging eyes look less protruding). However, her look improves during her descent to hell. Her hair is cut into a platinum bob; the smudged, smoky make-up around her eyes makes her face strangely modern; her whole features becomes less doll-like stylized.

As I watched the DVD, I almost fell asleep towards the end, wondering how Scarlett O'Hara ever managed to be so passionately in love with Ashley, played by the very same Howard. . My apologies to Howard's fans, but I totally lack any appreciation for his skills. Bravo to Davis, as usual, but even she is not enough to make this movie a classic.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Unrequited Love, Betrayal and Sexual Obsession
claudio_carvalho1 May 2010
The clubfooted aspirant painter Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) is advised by an acquaintance to give-up his artistic ambition since he is a mediocre artist. He joins the medical school in London using his inheritance to pay the school and to have a comfortable life. When he meets the cold cockney waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) in a restaurant, the shy Philip has a crush on her but she rejects him. Philip stalks her and dates her; however the easy woman scorns him. When Philip proposes Mildred, she tells him that she is going to marry her lover Miller (Alan Hale), leaving the brokenhearted Philip obsessed for her. He tries to move on, dating the affectionate Norah (Kay Johnson) in an unrequited love. However, when Mildred returns alone and pregnant, Philip lodges them in his home. Sooner Mildred becomes lover of Philip's friend Reginald Denny (Harry Griffiths) and leaves Philip again. When Philip finds Mildred and her baby later abandoned on the street, he brings them home. Mildred unsuccessfully tries to seduce Philip but he loathes her; Mildred feels humiliated and wrecks his apartment and burns his savings, forcing Philip to quit the medical school. However his teacher offers to operate his feet first and Philip becomes a normal man. But he does not succeed to find a job and his life goes downhill fast until he meets a friend that helps him.

"Of Human Bondage" is an unpleasant romance about unrequited love, betrayal and sexual obsession. The restrictions of the moral code of the society in the 30's force the director and screenplay writer to be vague and open in many scenes, destroying the full understanding of the plot like, for example, the dialog between Sally and Philip in the last scene. I found a reasonable explanation in the IMDb Message Board from a user that read the novel. The good point is that there is no use of clichés and the story is not dated. I loved the performance of Bette Davis, but I am a great fan of this awesome actress therefore my opinion might be compromised. However, the nomination to the Oscar also corroborates with my comment. In Brazil, this movie was released on DVD by Continental Distributor. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Escravos do Desejo" ("Slaves of the Desire")
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Strumpet and her Puppet
marbleann9 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is about sexual obsession. Bette Davis plays Mildred. This is a woman who men are drawn to. Not because she is a nice beautiful girl but because she is a sexual entity. Now the movie does not come out and say that but it is obvious. There is a scene in the movie in which men are all going googly eyes over her. She works as a waitress in a coffee shop, she can't read and she not really anybody to look at but she is a flirt. It is obvious the male customers in that coffee shop are there because of her. One day Phillip a club footed failed painter medical student comes in the shop to say a good word for his friend but he becomes besotted the moment he sees her. He starts buying her things even pays for her apartment. Meanwhile she is seeing other people and she makes no secrets of it. He dreams about her like she is a angel, but she is no angel. He is constantly thinking about her. His med school grades are even failing. So what the nookie is too good. He wants to marry her but she rejects him because she is marrying another guy. She always lets Phil know she really doesn't have love feelings for him all of time. He is heart broken but he meets another woman. They seem fine but it is obvious he is still dreaming of the Bimbo. Mildred does comes back with a baby and unwed. Phillip takes her in again, but she starts going out with a friend of his, the light bulb comes on a little and he kicks her out. She does what she knows works so she tries to seduce him, well it doesn't work and she proceeds to burn his tuition money up. Oh we have a club foot that he has problems about, even though a street teenager who has the same problem tells him to lighten up about it. He meets another girl named Sally we have a March of time montage which shows her aging while he strings her along still waiting for Mildred. Well he has no school tuition, can't find a job. Finally Sally and her dad takes him in. Not before another March of Time montage showing him going downhill. Soon his uncle who raised him dies and he gets money to become a doctor. Meanwhile he finds Mildred needs him again. She has TB. meanwhile he is still leading Sally down the Primrose path about marriage and he takes a job on a steamship. Finally the bimbo dies and Phillip declares he is free now and he will marry Sally. I wished she told him to stuff it. Now I know my take on the characters are not going to get me any points. But I feel Phillip was the bad guy. Yes Mildred is a Strumpet BUT he knows it, and he keeps coming back. Mean while he has two other girlfriends who love him but he treats as appetizers. I guess the sex wasn't as good. But in any case he dogs those women waiting for Mildred. Not only that but the man who gets Mildred pregnant is already married and when Philip asks him what he intends to do about Baby ( apparently the baby's name) he laughs is off, he has no intention in supporting her and Baby and he is wealthy. Sally's father who has 9 children say some pretty nasty things about women but he is said to be a old traditionalist. Philip doesn't seem to refute his feelings either. Men are using Mildred as a Boy Toy but the men in this movie come out as unscathed. Yes she was not a respectable woman but far from a villain. To me it is Philip who was had the real problem and it was his sexual obsession for Mildred.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"You dirty swine!"
i23skidoo31 August 2003
Enjoyable in spite of Leslie Howard's performance. Mr. Howard plays Philip as a flat, uninteresting character. One is supposed to feel sorry for this man; however, I find myself cheering Bette Davis' Mildred. Ms. Davis gives one her finest performances (she received an Academy Award nomination). Thanks to her performance she brings this rather dull movie to life. **Be sure not to miss when Mildred tells Philip exactly how she feels about him.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
jotix10013 May 2006
Of the three remakes on W. Somerset Maughan's novel, this one is the best one, and not particularly because what John Cromwell brought to the film. The film is worth a look because of the break through performance by Bette Davis, who as Mildred Rogers, showed the film industry she was a star. Finally, her struggles with Jack Warner and his studio paid off royally.

The film is dominated by Mildred from the start. We realize from the beginning that Mildred doesn't care for Philip and never will. She doesn't hide her contempt for this kind soul that has fallen in love with the wrong woman. He will be humiliated by Mildred again, and again, as she makes no bones about what she really is.

Poor Philip Carey, besides of being handicap, is a man who is weak. When he tries to cling onto Mildred, she rejects him. It is when Mildred returns to him, when she is frail and defeated, that he rises to the occasion, overcoming his own dependency on this terrible woman who has stolen his will and his manhood.

Bette Davis gives a fantastic portrayal of Mildred. This was one of her best roles and she ran away with it. Her disgust toward the kind Philip is clear from the onset of their relationship. When she tells him she washes her mouth after he kisses her is one of the most powerful moment in the movie. Leslie Howard underplayed Philip and makes him appear even weaker than he is. Frances Dee, Reginald Denny, Alan Hale and Reginald Owen, are seen in minor roles.

This is Bette Davis show, and don't you forget it!
17 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Davis' breakout role
blanche-28 September 2006
Today actresses happily gain weight, dye their hair, dress like slobs, and lose their glamor for a role, and Bette Davis was probably the actress who started the trend. Even as a pretty young woman who occasionally wore designer clothes and Constance Bennett-type makeup in films, Davis was willing to ravage herself in order to create a character on the outside as well as the inside.

Her determination is amply demonstrated here in her breakout film, "Of Human Bondage," in which she stars with Leslie Howard as Philip Carey. Davis plays Mildred, a slutty, manipulative, greedy low-life to Howard's masochistic, club-footed Philip. He first meets her when she's a waitress, and she allows him to take her out to dinner and theater while she frolics with a wealthy older man (Alan Hale Sr.). In truth, Mildred is repulsed by Philip's club foot. On his part, Philip seems to enjoy the abuse of her open flirtation and her coolness toward him. He allows Mildred to bleed him dry financially in between boyfriends who drop her when they tire of her, while he blows off a couple of truly lovely women (Kay Johnson and Frances Dee). When he gets the gumption to throw her out, Mildred trashes his apartment and robs him, forcing him to withdraw from medical school and lose his lodgings.

"Of Human Bondage" looks rather stilted today in parts. Though Leslie Howard was a wonderful actor and attractive, his acting style is of a more formal old school, and as a result, he tends to date whatever he's in. He shines in material like his role opposite Davis in "It's Love I'm After" or "The Petrified Forest" which call for his kind of technique. His dated acting is even more obvious here because Davis was forging new ground with a gritty, edgy performance that would really make her name. If she seems at times over the top, she came from the stage, and the subtleties of film acting would emerge later for her. Contrast this performance with the restraint, warmth and gentleness of her Henriette in "All This, and Heaven Too" or the pathos she brought to "Dark Victory." She was a true actress and a true artist. Davis really allows herself to look like holy hell; Mildred's deterioration is absolutely pathetic as Philip seems to gain strength as her spirit fades.

An excellent film in which to see the burgeoning of one of film's greatest stars.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Bette Finds Stardom in a Slut
theowinthrop2 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I happen to like Leslie Howard, in his better films. Yet, for some reason, his performance in OF HUMAN BONDAGE never has moved me tremendously. I first saw the film on my college campus in 1972 and the reviewer in the college newspaper made the comment that in the 1930s and 1940s Howard played the roles supposedly later picked up by Dirk Bogard as the man who was born to be betrayed. This is not usually the case (off hand I think of Ashley Wilkes as a man who might be betrayed, if he and Scarlett O'Hara were meant to be an item by Margaret Mitchell - but Ashley loved Melonie, not Scarlett). Howard could play any type, and a role like R. J. Mitchell or Professor Henry Higgins is not one who is betrayed.*

(*One can make the case that Philip Armstrong Scott is betrayed by the two strangers he shows hospitality to in 49TH PARALLEL, but they are Nazis who consider him - a liberal, westerner, Canadian - fair game to double cross in wartime. It isn't the same as emotional betrayal, and Howard does not shrivel up as a result, but faces the Nazis and captures one after beating him up.)

I think what the reviewer meant was that Howard could be soulful - or try to be soulful. Witness his poet - dreamer - wanderer in THE PETRIFIED FORREST. But that character was not betrayed, except by history perhaps (as he feels his type is as out of date as the gangster played by Humphrey Bogart). The character of Philip Carey in Somerset Maugham's OF HUMAN BONDAGE is soulful too. He is sensitive for several reasons. He has an interest in art and tries to become a painter - but unlike the artist Strickland in THE MOON AND SIXPENCE he has no real talent. So he decides to concentrate on medical studies, accentuated by a club foot condition he has. Here he is a man with low self-esteem who is set up to be betrayed.

Philip finds that betrayal in the form of Mildred a Cockney waitress (Bette Davis) who is mercenary and as selfish as they come. Why Philip falls for her is not really addressed in the film, but he does find the woman fascinating. And she finds him an easy meal ticket. Ironically in being so captivated by this slut, Philip fails to notice two other women who are interested in him (Kay Johnson and Frances Dee), and are more fit to be his mate. He also keeps finding himself forgiving Davis when she has affairs with other men (Alan Hale and Reginald Denny - the latter a friend of Howard's).

Although Howard's performance captures the doormat tendency of Philip towards Mildred, he really does not show enough passion (until late in the movie, when he turns on her). That is why I find I never cared for his performance here - it lacks any reality. His later tortured insistence in GONE WITH THE WIND that he loves Olivia De Haviland, not Vivian Leigh, has more consistency with a man in love. But the performance of Davis as Mildred makes the film important. She had a wide variety of parts up to 1934, like the girlfriend of the deaf pianist in THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD or the spoiled heiress who gets murdered in FOG OVER FRISCO or the mouse-like secretary in THREE ON A MATCH. As Mildred she finally showed she could be a major actress by playing a selfish bitch.

Curiously her performance was not all of one note. While she uses and abuses Howard for two thirds of the film, culminating in that famous scene where she shows how disgusted his kissing of her made her, her last scenes show she too could fall apart due to her health deteriorating, and her inability to keep any honest jobs. When Howard rejects her the viewers fail to note how equally vicious he becomes (he asks what happened to her baby - she tells him the baby died and Howard says brusquely that he is glad, which is hardly the response she expects). In the end Howard does finally get his life in order, but Mildred ends a casualty (ironically her death discovered by her old boyfriend Denny on a medical call). The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences did fail to nominate Davis in 1934 (leading to the largest write - in campaign in it's history, and a permanent change in it's rules), but Davis was established as a star. In one year she won the Oscar as Joyce Heth in DANGEROUS. And in two years she co-starred with Howard again (as equal stars) in THE PETRIFIED FORREST.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed