Of Human Bondage

dir. John Cromwell

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Bette Davis finally became a star with her performance as a blowsy, malicious Cockney waitress who manipulates and torments the sensitive painter (Leslie Howard) who loves her.

The film that finally made Davis a star (after more than thirty previous roles, many of them leading) also occasioned one of the worst snubs in the history of the Academy Awards: denied a much-expected Best Actress nomination for her performance in Of Human Bondage, Davis became the subject of a write-in campaign, and was awarded a consolation Oscar the following year for Dangerous. Somerset Maugham's famous tale of amorous obsession and emotional masochism stars Leslie Howard as medical student and painter manqué Philip Carey, whose club foot makes him the subject of pity and derision. Wielding a broad Cockney accent (which she learned from her British housekeeper), Davis revels in her role as blowsy, malicious Mildred, the tea-room waitress who humiliates and manipulates the sensitive, devoted Carey. Stealing scene after scene as a conniving victim or an insult-slinging slattern who calls Carey "a gimpy-legged monster," Davis, who had campaigned for the role, resisted the studio's attempt to soften her character, applying her own grotesque makeup and exaggerating the caustic in her Cockney; "I was the female Marlon Brando of my generation," the actress later declared.