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Of Human Bondage

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Original title
Of Human Bondage
Running time
83 min.
United States United States
Drama. Romance | Romantic Drama
Movie Groups
W. Somerset Maugham Adaptations
The interior life of a natural-born introvert is a tricky thing to convey in any story medium, but perhaps nowhere more than in feature films. Fortunately for this 1934 version of Of Human Bondage (the first of three), the introverted young doctor at the center of the story is played by Leslie Howard, who makes a slack spirit and puppet-of-destiny ennui look like a GQ ad from the age of Romanticism. Howard's character, well liked by peers and facing a promising future, becomes a slave to self-destructive impulse when he grows obsessed with a mercurial, promiscuous waitress (Bette Davis). She stands him up, she lets him down, she sleeps around--basically doing anything she can think of to humiliate the plaintive, puppyish Howard. The good doctor's prospects soon sink... and then sink again and again every time she reappears, usually in dire circumstances, after prolonged absences. Much of Howard's performance borders on monotony, but how many ways can an actor show what it's like to lean against desks and ponder the enigma of himself? At least he looks classy while doing so. Meanwhile, Davis's electric performance, one of her best, gives director John Cromwell's slow pacing a shot in the arm. The supporting cast is very good: Alan Hale, Frances Dee, and Cromwell's then-wife, Kay Johnson, do a fine job helping to fill in the silences. Adapted from the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. - Tom Keogh (From
1934: Academy Awards: Nominated to Best Actress in a Leading Role (Bette Davis)
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User history
Of Human Bondage
John Cromwell