29 August 2002 | MissGirlFriday
Not Bette Davis, but sometimes that's a *good* thing!
It is unfortunate that the 1934 version of this film has become the precedent by which all following adaptations seemed to be judged. This version does not try to imitate the "classic" and is an entirely different animal (making up for many of the flaws in the original).
Whereas Bette Davis portrayed Mildred as an over-the-top shrew, Kim Novak gave her an almost childlike naivety. It is not that Mildred wants purposely to hurt men but rather that she simply does not know how to behave better. Novak's interpretation gives Mildred the much needed humanity that was absent in the first version. Since Mildred now has genuine moments of kindness, it is much easier to see how Philip (Laurence Harvey) becomes obsessed with her.
Harvey, however, is greatly miscast in this film. As a crippled young man who likes art and helping people through medicine, Philip has a great deal of sensitivity (as seen through Leslie Howard's performance in the original). But Harvey, the actor who relished in being unlikable, is completely unable to deliver this. He fared much better in grimy roles ("Walk on the Wild Side," "Darling") and so he is only convincing in the scenes where he yells and slaps Mildred. (Given the reports that Harvey and Novak loathed each other, it is easy to see why these scenes are the most convincing). He is terrible, however, at looking smitten.
Performances aside, this version is refreshingly modern. Rather than glaze over the seedier bits to appease the censors, you will actually hear words like `whore' and `syphilis.' The final scenes are quite touching too, thanks in part to Novak's humility (she truly looks decrepit towards the end). The score cascades a little too loud and often though in all the pivotal scenes and this version would have benefited greatly from a more realistic approach.
This is a must see if you are a fan of the story and Kim Novak. Somerset Maugham supposedly adored Novak's interpretation of Mildred and it truly is a refreshing take on Of Human Bondage.