Of Human Bondage (1934)

83 mins | Drama | 20 July 1934

Director:

John Cromwell

Writer:

Lester Cohen

Cinematographer:

Henry Gerrard

Editor:

William Morgan

Production Designers:

Van Nest Polglase, Carroll Clark

Production Company:

RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

According to an early pre-production FD news item, Irene Dunne was originally announced as the film's star. RKO borrowed Bette Davis from Warner Bros. for this production. According to Davis' autobiography, director Cromwell decided to cast her as "Mildred" after he saw her in two 1932 Warner Bros.'s films, Cabin in the Cotton and The Rich Are Always with Us. Warner Bros. was reluctant to lend Davis to RKO, but after she spent "six months in supplication," she "drove" Jack Warner to agree. To prepare for the role, Davis hired a Cockney woman to work in her home and studied her accent for two months. In her autobiography, Davis describes the production: "The first few days on the set were not too heartwarming. Mr. Howard and his English colleagues, as a clique, were disturbed by the casting of an American girl in the part. I really couldn't blame them. There was lots of whispering in little Druid circles whenever I appeared. Mr. Howard would read a book offstage, all the while throwing me his lines during my close-ups. He became a little less detached when he was informed that 'the kid is walking away with the picture.'" Davis states that when "we were ready to do the scene involving Mildred's decline, I asked Mr. Cromwell if I could put on my own makeup."
       When Davis, who received consistently high praise for her performance, was not nominated for an Academy Award, Warner Bros. demanded that "all their organization members with votes submit to the Academy the name of Bette Davis," according to NYT. Although the ...

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According to an early pre-production FD news item, Irene Dunne was originally announced as the film's star. RKO borrowed Bette Davis from Warner Bros. for this production. According to Davis' autobiography, director Cromwell decided to cast her as "Mildred" after he saw her in two 1932 Warner Bros.'s films, Cabin in the Cotton and The Rich Are Always with Us. Warner Bros. was reluctant to lend Davis to RKO, but after she spent "six months in supplication," she "drove" Jack Warner to agree. To prepare for the role, Davis hired a Cockney woman to work in her home and studied her accent for two months. In her autobiography, Davis describes the production: "The first few days on the set were not too heartwarming. Mr. Howard and his English colleagues, as a clique, were disturbed by the casting of an American girl in the part. I really couldn't blame them. There was lots of whispering in little Druid circles whenever I appeared. Mr. Howard would read a book offstage, all the while throwing me his lines during my close-ups. He became a little less detached when he was informed that 'the kid is walking away with the picture.'" Davis states that when "we were ready to do the scene involving Mildred's decline, I asked Mr. Cromwell if I could put on my own makeup."
       When Davis, who received consistently high praise for her performance, was not nominated for an Academy Award, Warner Bros. demanded that "all their organization members with votes submit to the Academy the name of Bette Davis," according to NYT. Although the Academy allowed the write-in vote, Davis never received an official nomination and lost to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. (After 1934, the Academy prohibited all write-in campaigns.) Davis incorrectly recollects in her autobigraphy that she was nominated by the Academy that year. When Davis won the "Best Actress" prize in 1935 for Dangerous, the press speculated that Academy members were actually rewarding her for her performance in Of Human Bondage. Davis adds: "It is an interesting fact that most people believe that Of Human Bondage was my first picture although I had made twenty-one films before it."
       A FD news production item described the technique by which Cromwell sped up the shooting so that Howard, who was suffering from tonsilitis, could finish and go to the hospital. On a revolving stage that was left over from a musical, Cromwell had four small sets built into each corner. After filming on one set, he rotated to the next, thereby avoiding the necessity of re-setting the lights and re-adjusting the cameras.
       Of Human Bondage was placed on the Catholic Church's "condemned" list in Aug 1934, according to HR. According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Dr. James Wingate, Director of Studio Relations of the AMPPA, informed RKO executive Merian C. Cooper in late May 1933 that an early draft of the script presented "so many difficulties that it appears...to be impossible to present...under the Code." Joseph I. Breen, Public Relations Director of the AMPPA, concurred with Wingate's assessment and suggested that "Mildred's" disease in the story be changed from syphilis to tuberculosis. Shortly before filming began, Breen approved changes that were made in the script and wrote in an inter-office memo that, while the story was "very dangerous...from a number of angles," it was also "something of a classic" and "so regarded by modern readers of fiction." A memo from Breen to RKO, which was included in RKO production files, indicates that Breen objected to the following aspects of the completed film: shots of Carey's nude sketches that "emphasized" the figure's breasts; Mildred's line in reference to the drawings, "All of it going on in your head"; and the scene in which Mildred picks up a man in front of a shop window.
       According to modern sources, Of Human Bondage lost $45,000 at the box office. In 1946, Warner Bros, which had purchased the screen rights to W. Somerset Maugham's novel from RKO, released a second version of the story, which starred Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker and was directed by Edmund Goudling. Miguel M. Delgado directed a Mexican version in 1955, and Ken Hughes directed Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey in a Seven Arts/M-G-M version in 1964 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.3573).

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PERSONAL & COMPANY INDEX CREDITS
HISTORY CREDITS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1934
p. 3
Daily Variety
13 Aug 1934
p. 6
Film Daily
22 Jan 1934
p. 6
Film Daily
9 Apr 1934
p. 21
Film Daily
27 Jun 1934
p. 6
Film Daily
29 Jun 1934
pp. 5-6
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1934
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 1934
p. 5
Motion Picture Daily
27 Jun 1934
p. 22
Motion Picture Herald
14 Apr 1934
p. 36
Motion Picture Herald
7 Jul 1934
p. 48
Motion Picture Herald
25 Aug 1934
p. 75
New York Times
29 Jun 1934
p. 17
New York Times
24-Feb-35
---
New York Times
26-Jul-36
---
Variety
3 Jul 1934
p. 26
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Pandro S. Berman Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
J. Dewey Starkey
Asst dir
Asst dir
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Henry W. Gerrard
Photog
2d cam
Gaffer
2nd cam asst
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Asst rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Vernon Walker
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech dir
Unit mgr
Scr clerk
Props
Best boy
Alex Kahle
Still photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (London, 1915).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 July 1934
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 28 Jun 1934
Production Date:
19 Feb--7 Apr 1934; retakes 30 Apr, 7 May, 1--2 Jun 1934
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
5 July 1934
LP4873
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Victor System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
83
Length(in feet):
7,456
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
53
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

After he is told by a Parisian artist that he possesses little artistic talent, would-be painter Philip Carey returns to London and enters medical school. Painfully self-conscious about his clubfoot, Philip flirts awkwardly with Mildred Rogers, a Cockney tearoom waitress whom his fellow student, Cyril Dunsford, has "discovered." Although Mildred treats him rudely, Philip returns to the tearoom and coaxes her to accept a dinner date. During the dinner, Mildred continues her cold, bored behavior and refuses Philip a goodnight kiss. She then breaks a theater date with him in order to see Emile Miller, a loud but well-to-do womanizer. Because of his growing obsession with the waitress, Philip fails his mid-term exams, but determines to propose marriage to her. As Philip presents her with a ring, Mildred tells him that she is engaged to another man, whom Philip later discovers is Miller. To help him forget Mildred, Philip is introduced to Norah, a romance writer, who showers him with love. In spite of his own desires to return Norah's love, Philip ends their relationship when a pregnant Mildred, who has been deserted by the already married Miller, shows up on his doorstep. After her baby is born, Mildred betrays Philip with Harry Griffiths, another student, but eventually is abandoned by him. Philip, meanwhile, meets pretty Sally Athelny, the daughter of a former patient, who encourages him to visit their large family. Months later, a penniless Mildred returns to Philip with her baby and moves in with him. Distressed by Philip's sudden lack of affection, Mildred explodes with fury one night and accuses him of being a laughable, "gimpy-legged monster." ...

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After he is told by a Parisian artist that he possesses little artistic talent, would-be painter Philip Carey returns to London and enters medical school. Painfully self-conscious about his clubfoot, Philip flirts awkwardly with Mildred Rogers, a Cockney tearoom waitress whom his fellow student, Cyril Dunsford, has "discovered." Although Mildred treats him rudely, Philip returns to the tearoom and coaxes her to accept a dinner date. During the dinner, Mildred continues her cold, bored behavior and refuses Philip a goodnight kiss. She then breaks a theater date with him in order to see Emile Miller, a loud but well-to-do womanizer. Because of his growing obsession with the waitress, Philip fails his mid-term exams, but determines to propose marriage to her. As Philip presents her with a ring, Mildred tells him that she is engaged to another man, whom Philip later discovers is Miller. To help him forget Mildred, Philip is introduced to Norah, a romance writer, who showers him with love. In spite of his own desires to return Norah's love, Philip ends their relationship when a pregnant Mildred, who has been deserted by the already married Miller, shows up on his doorstep. After her baby is born, Mildred betrays Philip with Harry Griffiths, another student, but eventually is abandoned by him. Philip, meanwhile, meets pretty Sally Athelny, the daughter of a former patient, who encourages him to visit their large family. Months later, a penniless Mildred returns to Philip with her baby and moves in with him. Distressed by Philip's sudden lack of affection, Mildred explodes with fury one night and accuses him of being a laughable, "gimpy-legged monster." She then destroys all of his paintings and burns a stack of bonds, which Philip's uncle had sent him for tuition. Broke, Philip is forced to quit school, but before he leaves, Dr. Jacobs operates on him and rids him of his clubfoot. Eventually the unemployed Philip is taken in by the Athelnys and given a job in a store. Soon after, Philip receives a beseeching letter from Mildred, who has lost her baby and contracted tuberculosis. Determined to resist Mildred, Philip gives her a little money and departs. Then, with an inheritance from his uncle, he finishes medical school and contracts to be the physician on a cruise ship. Before he is to sail, however, Philip learns of Mildred's death and, at last liberated, decides to stay in London and marry the devoted Sally.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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