Of Human Bondage (1934)

Of Human Bondage (1934), directed by John Cromwell.

Efficiently condensed version of Maugham's large book. Pre-Code (sort of) but nothing terribly outrageous.

It's the tale of Leslie Howard's obsessive and degrading love for Bette Davis, a nasty piece of work. She reenters his life several times with disastrous results long after he's stopped loving her, but he can't stop caring.

Davis made a big splash with this performance. Today it seems a bit much but maybe that's how Mildred behaved: always a bit broad and exaggerated. She has a good look for the character: sort of weird and unhealthy.

Howard is wittier and more clever than the Philip of the book, who is weak and aimless. He gives a very sensitive performance; the point of our obsessions is that they make no sense and we can't control them.

The camera work and composition are often rather fine. Max Steiner score.

It took me forever to get through the book. I liked Cakes and Ale and Ashenden (which Hitchcock mined for The Secret Agent) quite a bit more. The book is heartfelt but uncomfortably autobiographical, the sort of thing you would tell a priest or therapist. The exhaustive details matter more to the author than to the average reader. And the bits with Mildred go on and on.

Available online for free.