Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Of Human Bondage” (1934)

Linotte MelodieuseMovies2 Comments

movie

Happy Friday, all! This week’s classic movie pick is a little more philosophical and explores the intricacies of human relationships. “Of Human Bondage” was released in 1934 and stars Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Frances Dee. The film was based on the novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. This was the film that propelled Bette Davis to stardom.

Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in a still from "Of Human Bondage"

Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. Image from Wikipedia.

Philip Carey (Howard) has just returned to London from Paris after giving up on his art studies because of his mediocre talent. He resumes his medical studies, but his lack of faith in his talents and his tendency toward melancholy hamper his efforts. He falls hopelessly in love with tearoom waitress Mildred Rogers (Davis), who finds his club foot to be repugnant and who treats him cruelly. Her response to his romantic overtures is always, “I don’t mind,” which irritates Philip to no end, but he becomes obsessed with her, so much so that he fails in school. She refuses his offer of marriage, instead telling Philip that she is going to marry a salesman, and she scoffs at his romantic interest in her.

Philip’s next romantic relationship nearly brings him happiness and makes him forget about Mildred, but soon Mildred returns to Philip, pregnant and abandoned by her salesman. She begs Philip for his help, and he takes care of her financially, intent on marrying her after the baby is born. Mildred wants none of it, and sends her child off to be raised by a nurse. She eventually runs off to Paris with one of Philip’s friends, only to return months later, destitute, with her baby in her arms and again seeking Philip’s help. During her time away, Philip has returned to his studies and has found work in a charity hospital, where me meets kind Sally Athelney (Dee), the daughter of one of his patients. But he can’t leave

Movie poster for "Of Human Bondage"

Poster from film. Image from Wikipedia.

Mildred and her baby to starve, so he takes her in. Mildred eventually becomes angry with him and trashes his apartment, even going so far as to burn the securities left to him by his uncle so that he would have some source of income while attending school. After the surgery that repairs his deformed foot, Philip is left destitute and has to leave school once again, and when he is evicted from his apartment, he turns to the Athelnys, who take him in and help him put his life back together. Soon, an inheritance enables him to return to medical school and complete his studies, and he has fallen in love with Sally. He learns that Mildred has fallen into a life of ruin: her baby has died, she is working as a prostitute, and she is dying of tuberculosis, and when he visits her he can only pity her for how low she has fallen. He wishes to help her through her last days, but before he can visit her again, she dies in a charity hospital. Mildred’s death finally frees Philip of the hold she had maintained upon him throughout his life, and he is free to move on with his life and marry Sally.

Promo picture for "Of Human Bondage" of Bette Davis as Mildred

Bette Davis as Mildred. Image from Wikipedia.

The film touches on many themes, but perhaps the greatest things that the film examines is the juxtaposition between kindness and cruelty, both of which humans are capable of, and how unchecked emotions can lead to one’s destruction. Philip has idealized Mildred to the point that he can’t see the person she really is, and he wants to “save” her and make her into the idealized version of her that he sees. While Mildred doesn’t return Philip’s feelings and finds his attraction toward her to be ludicrous, she uses it for her own benefit, and she knows that she can go running to him for help when her life takes a downturn. While Philip’s volatile emotions and blind idealism lead to his own downfall, Mildred’s callousness is even worse, for her lack of emotion and empathy for others are things that can’t be reversed. Once Mildred is out of Philip’s life, though, he is able to see things more clearly, and he is able to channel his emotions and idealism much more positively and ends up helping others. During his time with the Athelnys, he is able to reevaluate the course his life has taken and realizes that his foolish obsession with saving Mildred was what led him down this path. He’s able to change things and he matures as a person and understands what it truly means to love someone in his relationship with Sally. He still wishes to see Mildred and her baby cared for even though his romantic feelings for Mildred have long since faded, but it’s because he honestly feels compassion for Mildred and her lot in life.

Davis’s role as Mildred had been turned down by many actresses, many of whom didn’t want to play an unsympathetic heroine. Davis was willing to tackle it, and she would later play tough, iron-willed, scheming heroines in many of her other films. During World War II, she sold over two million dollars of war bonds in two days by reverting to the “bitch” character that her audiences loved so much. Who would have thought that taking a role that no one else wanted could lead to so much?

Thanks for rating this! Now tell the world how you feel via Twitter.
What feel do you feel after reading this post?
  • Inspired
  • Smart
  • Tickled
  • Hungry
  • Sad
  • Smash!
Linotte MelodieuseClassic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Of Human Bondage” (1934)

2 Comments on “Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Of Human Bondage” (1934)”

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply