"Of Human Bondage",1934 stars Better Davis and Leslie Howard on the Jacket but in 1934 Howard was the bigger name. Although the story line is slanted towards Howard it is 26 year old Davis who the real star here. Her voice sounds young and has no trace of the damage cigarettes did to it later on. She' pretty, with a good figure, and knows she is. Bette always had a way of looking directing at people, daring anyone to ignore her without consequence. She demands our attention and will do anything to get it. Pray that you never have to cross paths with an unapologetic slattern who is willing to sacrifice your life if it should somehow inconvenience her's. The censors stopped Davis from showing what the role actually called for. For example, in the 1964 Kim Novak has Davis's role and she succumbs to syphilis, not a lung condition in the 1934 film. Sex and prostitution were not fit subjects for the American film viewer. Leslie Howard was 41 years old and comes across as someone who is so naive about the viciousness of Davis that we want to sit him down and explain the abc's of dating. "Don't get mixed up with this bitch!", we want to yell into his ear. Maugham was probably saddened that Hollywood took the guts out of his story.
With this 1934 film, Leslie Howard propelled Bette Davis to international fame. Watch Davis portray a woman without capacity to love, as she schemes and regrets, endlessly. Often, the audience and Davis are the only ones aware of her scheming, and we the audience are amazed at Davis’ great acting ability at such a young age. The theme of the film is how we may become attracted to someone so intensely, that we are tragically bonded to them psychologically, even if they reject us and exit from our lives. Leslie Howard would again partner with Davis in the Petrified Forest in 1936, a reprise of a play in which Humphrey Bogart had played criminal Duke Mantee. Howard insisted that Bogart be in the film. So in just a two year span, Leslie introduced two of Hollywood’s greatest actors ever to international audiences.
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