Large Lester Cohen, who deserted the confining sanctuary of Greenwich Village and novel writing to go West, where he is fast making his fortune writing for motion picture companies, is responsible for the adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, “Of Human Bondage,” which RKO is presenting at the Music Hall this week. John Cromwell directed the film and the result is a picture far above the average.
RKO, in selecting a cast, hired Leslie Howard to play the part of Philip Carey, the unhappy, crippled young artist who finds that life’s problems cannot be ignored. As Maugham portrayed this character in his novel the picture also shows himâ€”as a man victimized by a very selfish woman who first torures him with her indifference and then makes demands upon him which ruin him both mentally and physically. In the book his complete mental degradation is the moving motive but the picture is not satisfied with such a spiritual ending alone and adds a touch whereby Carey loses his material assets as well.
Leslie Howard is an actor of consummate skill. He is sensitive, intelligent and able and possesses the ability to get the most out of a character part. In “Of Human Bondage” he does not fail. The surprise of the film, however, is the fine acting of Bette Davis in the role of Mildred, the woman who ruins Carey’s life. Heretofore her screen work has been ordinary and confined to ingenue roles but in this picture she attacks a difficult part successfully and courageously and actually steals the spotlight from Howard.
In transcribing the novel to the screen some compromises had to be made. Nothing was done to outrage the sensibilities of those who admired the book. The early, unhappy and embittered boyhood of Carey is glossed over entirely. Instead the film opens with his realization that he never will be an artist and then concerns itself mainly with his refusal to allow himself to be saved, by two other women who love him, from the almost insane passion he has for Mildred, a completely worthless, sluttish woman.
“Of Human Bondage” is an entirely engrossing and moving production. It is one of those pictures about which an audience becomes so intense that it applauds the heroics and hisses the villainy of the players. That is high praise indeed!
Roosevelt’s review of the New Deal is featured in this week’s news reel program at the Embassy Theatre. It shows the President making his historic report to the nation from the White House.
John Jacob Astor 3rd and his bride, Ellen Tuck French, are shown just before the wedding at Newport, R. I., and there are glimpses of Chetwode, the Astor bridal mansion.
Mussolini’s fateful meeting with Hitler at Venice is also shown, with the two dictators caught by the camera as they chat informally at a gigantic Fascist review.
Other subjects are the U. S. S. Houston, Roosevelt’s floating White House; Bontron’s revenge on Cunningham in a record collegiate mile; the outboard championship race around Manhattan Island; Max Baer promising Carnera a return match; Londos regaining the wrestling title from Browning, and the women’s air race for the Gibson Trophy.
Outstanding foreign subjects are the Ascot races and fashions; an Austrian anti-Hitler rally at Braunau; China’s “Living Buddha,” hailed at Shanghai; the Wightman Cup matches won by U. S. girls at Wimbledon; Manchukuo’s army reviewed by its emperor, and a locust plague in Africa. An interesting travelogue, “From Honolulu to Havana,” completes the show.