Though they share no screen time, 1934’s Of Human Bondage proved to be a successful project for Frances Dee, who would go on to headline Val Lewton’s classic 1943 offering I Walked With a Zombie, and Bette Davis, whose take on the spiteful Mildred Rogers finally established her as a star of significant reckoning.
Davis, of course, would go on to become one of the queens of gothic horror with appearances in such revered projects as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Here, though, her determination to artistic truth emerged via her insistence that Mildred’s decline not be a pretty one, but a dark and realistic journey. Her perseverance was also tested here as she was, reportedly, not treated well by her co-star Leslie Howard, who felt that a Brit should have been cast in the role in deference to the film’s English setting.
Dee has the nicer, less meaty role here. As the kind and understanding woman who eventually gains Howard’s heart, she does project a luminous quality that would bring her good stead in her most famous role of Betsey Connell, a nurse introduced to the ominous world of voodoo in (the above mentioned) I Walked with a Zombie.
This is truly Davis’ show, though. Compelling even as her repellant actions to Howard’s club footed Philip Carey make one wonder what he could ever see in her, she provides a bravura performance that has lingered in the public consciousness for decades.
Now, be sure to wipe your mouth, wipe your mouth…and until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!