Note: Revealing Mr. Maugham (2012, 83 Min.), a feature-length documentary about W. Somerset Maugham's life and career, including interviews with writers and fans Armistead Maupin, Pico Iyer, and Alexander McCall Smith
John Cromwell (THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, THE GODDESS) brings W. Somerset Maugham's novel and Bette Davis's career to life with the spellbinding drama OF HUMAN BONDAGE. Having unsuccessfully tried his hand at painting in Paris, Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) returns home to London. Despite his clubfoot, Philip overcomes his awkwardness and pursues a medical career. Still in medical school, he becomes obsessed with a gruff Cockney waitress, Mildred Rogers (Davis), intent on taking him for all he is worth. When Carey discovers that she is dating other men, he attempts to forget her by striking up a relationship with another woman. The effort fails when Mildred returns to tell Carey she is pregnant. Mildred repeatedly leaves Carey in distress but returns to him when she needs money. Eventually, his devotion to her threatens his career ambitions and his chance for future happiness. Davis is spectacular as the repulsive Mildred, while Howard's quiet, suffering gentleman furthered his own reputation as an outstanding performer.
Considered to be the best screen version of W. Somerset Maugham's 1915 novel about a crippled doctor's passion for a lowbrow waitress and the self-destructive romance that follows, John Cromwell's OF HUMAN BONDAGE was the film that spelled stardom for Bette Davis.
Bette Davis's performance in "Of Human Bondage" brought her to prominence as a Hollywood star. Davis notes: "It is an interesting fact that most people believe that 'Of Human Bondage' was my first picture although I had made twenty-one films before it." Irene Dunne was the original choice for the role, but after seeing Bette Davis in "Cabin in the Cotton" and "The Rich Are Always with Us," director John Cromwell wanted to cast her instead. Following much pleading on Davis's part, Jack Warner agreed to "loan" the actress from Warner Brothers studio. To help her attain an authentic London accent for the film, Bette Davis hired a Cockney woman to work in her home for two months. Davis remembered: "The first few days on the set were not too heartwarming. Mr. Howard and his English colleagues, as a clique, were disturbed by the casting of an American girl in the part. I really couldn't blame them. There was lots of whispering in little Druid circles whenever I appeared. Mr. Howard... became a little less detached when he was informed that 'the kid is walking away with the picture.'" Although Bette Davis was not officially nominated by the Academy for her performance in "Of Human Bondage", she was the subject of a write-in vote in 1934. After 1934, the Academy disallowed its policy of write-in campaigns. When she won Best Actress for her role in "Dangerous" the following year, the press noted that it may have been an attempt to reward her for her work in "Of Human Bondage."
The Catholic Church placed this film on its "condemned list" in 1934.
To conform with the MPAA/PCA Production Code, RKO changed the ailment in the film from syphilis to tuberculosis.
This film was remade in 1946 as a US production starring Eleanor Parker and Paul Heinreid. In 1955, there was a Mexican version directed by Miguel M. Delgado. Then in 1964, a British remake starred Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak.
A Pandro S. Berman production.
There is also a computer-colorized version of this film.
Additional cast: Desmond Roberts (Dr. Jacobs), Douglas Gordon (Hawker).
Additional credits: Ann Coleman (dialogue), Kenneth Holmes (assistant director), William Morgan (editor), Ethel Beach (wardrobe), Tommy Clark (wardrobe).