Of Human Bondage (1946, Edmund Goulding)

Slow-moving (which probably goes hand-in-hand with the source material, a novel that took me two months to read, just for lack of interest), but still rather good. Goulding is an interesting director, he really holds his shots, and he creates the material out of the basic frameworks of the novel. Paul Henreid’s Philip Carey becomes redeemable a lot sooner than Maugham’s does, which makes the second half of the film much more pleasant than the first. The second half also has a great Edmund Gwenn performance.

TCM tends to show Of Human Bondage on their Henreid or Alexis Smith days, but Smith’s hardly in the film. The female lead is Eleanor Parker, who’s great… but… Parker doesn’t get to exit the film. Her character does, from the back of the head, but it’s all Henreid’s scene. This choice is interesting (and appropriate) since Parker has a lot more to do in the film. I tend not to like actor-absence in the final scenes, but it lets Henreid become the center again. So much of the film is about Parker’s presence and absence, something jarring is needed to focus on Henreid. Henreid doesn’t even try to make his character likable, because the audience gets to see his faults over and over.

The feeling of the film–the long, torturous “bondage” Carey feels in regard to his relationship with Parker’s character–is absent in the book. The novel is big and long (I just recently referred to Lanark as an enjoyable version of Of Human Bondage–and I love Maugham, by the way) and it never leaves you feeling good. In the second half of the film, Gwenn gives every scene a pleasant end, so it’s appropriate the film manages to confirm some positivity in the human condition….

A couple odd points. 1) I always thought Alexis Smith played two characters. She doesn’t. Janis Paige plays the other one. 2) I can not understand why there’s a reference to Of Human Bondage in Seven. Not this film nor the book. Must have been an attempt at a smarty-pants move.