12 November 2003 | Doylenf
Not as compelling as the novel...too many faults...
OF HUMAN BONDAGE attempts to be an accurate re-telling of the Somerset Maugham novel set in the Victorian period (instead of modern times as in the Bette Davis-Leslie Howard '34 version). But there are some drastic gaps in the script that tend to omit scenes that are only talked about or used as exposition. For example, Philip's sighting of Mildred as a street-walker is only mentioned; her illness is never shown graphically (as it was in the Bette Davis version) and we see only the back of her head as she lies in a hospital ward. Other key scenes are dismissed in a few lines of dialogue instead of being portrayed.
And the weaknesses don't end there. Edmund Gwenn is much too cheery as Philip's friend, playing him as though he is the father again in 'Pride and Prejudice' pushing his young daughter (Janis Paige) toward him in scene after scene. And Paige herself is notably miscast as a virginal English lass. Alexis Smith is totally wasted in a few brief scenes. Patric Knowles doesn't bring much credibility to the role of Philip's doctor friend.
And then there are the two central performances: Eleanor Parker and Paul Henried. Miss Parker puts too much effort into her role and is uglified so that she looks the role of a low-class hussy but it seems more like a self-conscious acting job than anything else. Her Mildred is contemptuous in her willful actions (like demolishing Philip's apartment when in a tantrum) and to her credit she never tries to create sympathy for the character she portrays--but never really seems to be the cheap tart she portrays. Ida Lupino would have made a much more convincing Mildred with much less effort. Paul Henried plays his role with sensitivity but is clearly too old to play the young medical student.
The entire film has a dark, claustrophobic look that isn't helped by the low-key lighting of rainswept streets and dark alleys nor the interior set decorations of humble lodgings. For a really better understanding of the story, read the original novel. It's quite fascinating.
A quality note of distinction is the underlying mood music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold that should have accompanied a much better film.