Bette Davis Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage [1934]

Written 2001

The club-footed Philip Carey (played by Leslie Howard) is a failed-artist-then-medical student who develops a disastrous dependency on slattern waitress Mildred Rogers played by Bette Davis. The more she toys with him and wrecks his life, the more he tries to find some as yet untried method to make her love him (impossible; Bette Davis plays Mildred like a moth headed straight into the flame of destruction. It's not just that she's self-absorbed, which of course she is, but that she is likewise obsessed with someone else who is ruining her life).

Bette DavisWhether it's some buried self-loathing or from a bizarre challenge to his ego, the explanation for Carey's devotion to his destructive crusade to conquer/save/love Mildred isn't clearly resolved (an enterprise he comes to hate, as much as he loathes Mildred, though he can't extricate himself from her, she is the totem of his self-destructive urge). We don't get a resolution until the end of the film when everything that has happened to Carey (including seeing his love object reduced to prostitution and a fatal case of TB) catches up with him and he's forced to put it all into a few short sentences before walking forward into a life sans Mildred/chains.

Frances Dee plays a young, dutiful, and sharply witty daughter (Sally) of an eccentric hospital patient who takes an interest in Carey, and provides him with help (which is needed!) since he is constantly on the verge of destitute homelessness whenever he has spent time with Mildred.

Of Human Bondage

The film is full of dated movie-making techniques, particularly stiff, stage-bound camera settings (though at times punctuated with some nice tracking shots, for example at the end when Carey, now cured of his club foot, is walking through the busy traffic of London). There is in-your-face camera work which was a carryover from silent movies, it is particularly effective when, for example, Mildred excoriates Phillip for his blossoming contempt of her late into the tale. I've never seen a print of this film that is in very good condition, and as it is apparently in Public Domain, and so of course cheap copies in DVD or VHS have proliferated. If there is a surviving print in good shape, I would like to see it, it might dispel the somewhat ragged quality of the film.

Still, it is a well-told story, the writing is very fine, and Bette Davis dominates the scenes whenever she is onscreen, easily turning the whole story into something strangely about Mildred Rogers, though the plight of Leslie Howard's sensitive, delicate Phillip Carey is the nominal star of the tale.


"A medical student falls prey to a sluttish waitress."
- TCM Movie Database

This is an unfair description of the film from the Turner Classic Movies website here. The character throws Phillip Carey off her tracks and yet he comes back after her yet again - - if the poor fool is falling prey to anything, it's his own dilemma concerning this unusual woman. Not that the waitress doesn't indeed use him horribly; but for much of the film he is lining up obediently for more: but in obedience to what?

of Human Bondage Postrer

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Directed by John Cromwell

Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, published in 1915.

Original release to theatres on July 20, 1934

Premiered in new York City on June 28, 1934

Production dates for the film indicate shooting from February 19, 1934 until April.

Then reshooting was done in early June, which is quite close to the premier date!

83 Minutes long.


MEDIA FILE

SCENE FROM HUMAN BONDAGE 1934
Bette Davis' character Mildred excoriates Leslie Howard's Phillip Carey
From YouTube.com
Click to Play


Links

Wikipedia has a page on the film here.

A short bio of the actor Leslie Howard is here.

A somewhat longer bio of Bette Davis is here.


Original page 2001 | Updated June 2011


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