26 November 2004 | ClassicAndCampFilmReviews
Still gives me goosebumps!
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".