Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Of Human Bondage (1934)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Of Human Bondage (1934)

In director John Cromwell's pre-Code tale, a fallen-woman romantic melodrama about an obsessive romance, adapted from the tragic, classic literary novel by W. Somerset Maugham, with issues such as promiscuity, adultery, a birth out-of-wedlock, naked drawings, and retributive death from TB/syphilis during prostitution:

  • the main character: a club-footed, sensitive artist Philip Carey (Leslie Howard), an Englishman who had been studying painting in Paris for four years, but was advised by his art teacher Monsieur Flourney (Adrian Rosley) that his artistic work was mediocre and second-rate, and that he lacked promise ("There is no talent here, merely industry and intelligence. You will never be anything but mediocre"); so he returned to London, England to take up studies to become a medical doctor
  • Philip's infatuation with blonde, lower-class, anemic, trashy, slatternly and vulgar, Cockney-accented, pale-faced and illiterate tearoom waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis); he became preoccupied and smitten with her, even though she was disdainful of his club-foot (she sneered when he walked out of the tearoom) and his obvious interest
  • the self-centered and vindictive Mildred made "I don't mind" her standard response to him when he would express an interest in asking her out; in the first instance of this, in the tearoom, Philip asked: "I say, will you dine with me some time? We'll go to the theatre?" - and she responded: "I don't mind"; although he was attracted to Mildred, she was manipulative, repugnant, exploitative, callous, two-timing, shrewish and cruel toward him, for example, her insult: "For a gentleman of brains, you don't use 'em!"; after their date, he asked for another date: "May I see you again," and she responded: "I don't mind" and coldly added: "If you don't take me out, someone else will", and she promptly dismissed him when he returned her home
  • when he met up with her again, he was frustrated by her "I don't mind" responses, and told her: "Look here, don't say that any more, will you?"; she refused a good-night kiss; and she stood him up for another theatre date - she claimed her Aunt was ill, but her real excuse was that she had accepted a date from loutish, boisterous, womanizing salesman Emile Miller (Alan Hale); Philip stalked her that night and realized she had lied to him; when he threatened to leave her for good, she delivered a nasty insult to the crippled 'hang-dog' Philip: "Good riddance to bad rubbish," for interfering with the start of her promiscuous relationship with Emile
  • his obsessed, idyllic daydreams and night-dreams about her (as they danced he told her, "I've been looking for you all my life"); and then later, as he studied, Mildred's image appeared over an illustration in his voluminous medical school anatomy textbook, and a skeleton in the classroom where he was taking his mid-year medical examination was transformed into Mildred; these thoughts caused him to be distracted from his scholastic studies and he failed
Philip Obsessed with Mildred
Night-Dream: Dancing Together
Mildred's Image in Anatomy Textbook
Classroom Skeleton Transformed into Mildred
  • Philip's older age, sophistication, low self-regard and self-deprecation, self-consciousness about his club-foot, and obsessive introspection made his relationship with Mildred impossible; he admitted to her: "Of course you don't like me. I'm a cripple"
  • Philip contemplated marriage with Mildred and told his school friends his reasoning: "Because I'm so in love with her"; he bought a 30 shillings ring and proposed marriage to Mildred over dinner ("I want you to marry me"); she immediately declined his ring, telling him that she would instead be marrying Emile Miller ("I'm so sorry, Philip...The fact is, I'm going to be married...(to) A man I know. He earns very good money...I'm getting on. I'm 24. Time I settled down. This gentleman earns 7 pounds a week. He's got good prospects. Well, this is goodbye. I hate to eat and run, Philip, but I have an engagement. I'm going to the theatre with the gentleman that I'm going to marry"); from afar, later in front of the theatre, Philip watched as she exited to a taxi-cab arm-in-arm with Emile - and as the love-sick, crushed Philip stumbled along, he imagined their marriage (the camera image blurred)
Rejected Marriage Proposal
"I want you to marry me"
"I'm going to be married"
Devastated and Heartbroken
  • after the bitter rejection, the tormented Philip forgot all about Mildred when he fell in love with the attractive and considerate Norah (Kay Johnson), a romance-story tabloid writer (working under a masculine pseudonym Courtenay Paget) who was sympathetic toward him; she slowly cured him of his painful addiction to Mildred and her abominable treatment of him
  • just when it appeared that Philip was finding love and happiness, Mildred suddenly returned to him, claiming that Emile had abandoned her (and not married her because he was already married), after finding her pregnant; the weak-willed Philip could not resist rescuing Mildred, and helping her to recover from her failed relationship; he took pity on tearful Mildred's penniless state and gave her apartment rent money and arranged to take care of her financially; he completely forgave her when she turned contrite and sorry for deserting him
  • Philip decided to break-up with Norah due to his "bondage" - he told her: "I'm sorry. It's just over...You've been wonderful to me. It's just that I..." - Norah interrupted and described their imbalanced relationship: "Of course, I knew you never loved me as much as I loved you," and Philip agreed: "There's usually one who loves and one who is loved"; he confessed that Mildred had come back and that he was "bound" to her; both admitted how bondages existed between people: (Norah: "After all she's done, how could you?...It's just as though you were bound to her in some I am to you. As she was to Miller." Philip: "As every human being is to something or other")
  • the scene in the hospital of Mildred's reaction to her child: "Funny-looking little thing, isn't it? I can't believe it's mine"; Philip's misguided intention was to marry Mildred after her child had been born, but a bored and restless Mildred was a disinterested mother after the baby's birth, and gave up the baby's care to a nurse
  • during a dinner party with Mildred and Philip, one of Philip's medical student friends, Harry Griffiths (Reginald Denny), flirted in an outrageous fashion with Mildred, causing her to ignore Philip, even though he was supporting her; after Philip confronted Griffiths for his behavior ("Don't take Mildred away from me"), his friend claimed: "She's nothing to me at all! Nothing at all!"; however, after also confronting Mildred about her interest in Griffiths, she admitted that they mutually loved each other, and she was sexually attracted to Griffiths unlike her 'friend'-type love for Philip: (Mildred: "Can't help it if I love him, can I?...It's no use going on about it, Philip. You said yourself that I couldn't help it if I'm in love with him"); Philip asserted his love for her by supporting her with an apartment and clothes; he also implied that she was "cheap" and "vulgar" - she slapped him, and announced her decision to run off with Griffiths to Paris, after which he ordered: "Get out! GET OUT!"; it wasn't long before Griffiths told Philip that they broke up: "Mildred and I are all washed up"
  • for a second time, Philip again found some comfort in his studies, and with 20 year-old Sally Athelny (Frances Dee) - the tender-hearted and sweet daughter of one of his elderly patients Thorpe Athelny (Reginald Owen) in a charity hospital ("Here I am in a charity hospital, because my father loved fast women and slow horses"); the good-hearted Athelny family was caring and affectionate, and warmly accepted Philip into their home
  • Mildred returned penniless and now with her baby in tow, and Philip once again helped her to recover; after moving in with Philip (because he couldn't afford a separate apartment for her), Mildred at first was conciliatory ("You've always been much nicer to me than I deserved. I'm beginning to realize how silly I've been") and promised to cook for him and clean ("Maybe some day you'll... you'll feel better about me and things will be like they used to be"), but soon things took a turn for the worse; she became very critical and abusive of him - and especially toward his "drawings of naked people" on the mantle, and his coldness to her ("He's not in love with anybody")
  • in the most famous sequence, when she became sexy and flirtatious with him in a low-cut negligee and draped herself next to him, he pushed her away: "Please get up. You're making a fool of yourself and a fool of me...You disgust me"; she viciously retaliated, ending her tirade by calling him a cripple: "Me?! I disgust you? You, you, you're too fine! You'll have none of me, but you'll sit here all night looking at your naked females...You cad! You dirty swine! I never cared for you, not once. I was always makin' a fool of ya. You bored me stiff! I hated ya! It made me sick when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me. Ya hounded me and drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH! I made up for it. For every kiss, I had a laugh. We laughed at ya, Miller and me, and Griffiths and me, we laughed at ya! Because you were such a mug, a mug, a mug! You know what you are? You gimpy-legged monster? You're a cripple! A cripple! A cripple!"
The Most Famous Sequence
"Just let me stay here. Phil..."
"Phil, I love you so...I can't live without ya"
"Please get up. You're making a fool of yourself and a fool of me"
"You disgust me"
"Me? I disgust you?"
"I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH!"
  • afterwards, she spitefully wrecked his apartment (with his nude drawings and books) and burned the securities/bonds he was given by his Uncle William Carey to finance his medical college tuition expenses, before leaving with her baby
  • destitute and forced to quit medical school and vacate his apartment, Philip was fortuitously offered a foot operation to rid himself of his deformity before leaving; although he sought employment, he couldn't find work and became mentally depressed; Sally's father offered him room in the Athelny home ("You're to stay until you get your bearings"); he accepted a job for Sally's father as a department store's shopping window designer
  • the film's ending: Mildred had again located Philip; she was sick, distraught, unwell, ill (with a deep cough) and destitute (with black circles under her eyes); presumably, she was living as a streetwalker in a dingy brothel, working as a cheap prostitute, although she was portrayed as suffering from tuberculosis (it had been changed from neurosyphilis or locomotor ataxia to satisfy the demands of the Hays Code); she asked: "It's lungs, is it?" Mildred's baby had died the previous summer; he gave her some money and a medical prescription, but denied her any other assistance; Philip finished medical school (with an unexpected inheritance from his deceased uncle), and was hired to be the ship's physician on a cruise boat sailing for Sydney, Australia; Philip had a choice - should he remain in London and make plans to marry Sally who was in love with him, or accept the cruise job and sail away?
  • in the film's last few moments, Mildred was found close to death (the attending medical personnel commented: "Well, this is what you might call the irony of fate"), and she was taken to a hospital charity ward, where Philip learned of her death (from TB or syphilis?); he was liberated and freed at last from his obsessive bondage, and free to remain in England and propose marriage to Sally right away: ("I had to be free to realize that. I had to be free to understand that all those years I dreamed of escape was because I was limping through life...That's all over. I'm not limping any more. My life's all right....everything that's beautiful to me is right here. Won't you please marry me, Sally?")
A Future with Sally!

Aspiring Painter Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) in Paris

English Tearoom Waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis)

Mildred's Standard Response: "I don't mind"

After First Date: "If you don't take me out, someone else will"

Emile: "We are both interested in the same thing" (Mildred)

Philip's First Breakup with Mildred: She Was Engaged to Marry Emile Miller

Philip's New Relationship with Norah (Kay Johnson)

Mildred's First Return: Unmarried, Abandoned and Pregnant

Philip's Breakup with Norah

Mildred's Reaction to Her Out-of-Wedlock Baby

Griffiths' First Flirtations with Mildred

2nd Breakup: Admitting Her Interest in Griffiths - Philip Called Her "Cheap" and "Vulgar"

Philip's 2nd New Relationship with Sally Athelny (Frances Dee)

Mildred's Return: Again

Spiteful About His "Naked Drawings"

Wrecking Philip's Apartment (Ripping Up Drawings, etc.)

Mildred: Suffering and Dying

Last View of Mildred Close to Death


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