Of Human Bondage (1964 film)

Of Human Bondage is a 1964 British drama film directed by Ken Hughes. The MGM release, the third screen adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's 1915 novel, was written by Bryan Forbes.

Of Human Bondage
Directed byKen Hughes
Henry Hathaway
Bryan Forbes
Produced byJames Woolf
Written byBryan Forbes
Based onOf Human Bondage
1915 novel
by W. Somerset Maugham
StarringKim Novak
Laurence Harvey
Music byRon Goodwin
CinematographyOswald Morris
Denys Coop
Edited byRussell Lloyd
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
23 September 1964
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1,750,000 (US/ Canada)[1]


After two unsuccessful years pursuing an art career in Paris, clubfooted Philip Carey decides to study medicine. He meets and falls in love with Mildred Rogers, a low-class waitress who takes advantage of his feelings for her.

When she leaves him to marry another man, Philip falls in love with Nora Nesbitt, a writer who encourages him to complete his studies. Mildred returns, pregnant and abandoned by her husband, and Philip takes her in and cares for her, ending his relationship with Nora.

While staying with Philip, Mildred has an affair with his best friend Griffiths, and when Philip confronts her, she tells Philip she's repulsed by him and walks out.

After earning his degree, Philip becomes an intern at a London Hospital. He learns Mildred is working as a prostitute and seeks her out at the brothel where she's living with her ailing child.

He takes the two under his wing, but once again Mildred leaves him. When he finally finds her in a clinic for the indigent, he discovers her child has died and Mildred, in the advanced stages of syphilis, dies in her spurned lover's arms.



Henry Hathaway began as director but bowed out shortly after production began. Screenwriter Bryan Forbes then briefly tackled the job of directing before the assignment fell to Ken Hughes.[2]

The first screen adaptation of Maugham's novel, made thirty years prior, starred Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker co-starred in the 1946 remake.

Critical reception

A. H. Weiler of The New York Times called the film a "surface, stoic old-fashioned tale" and added, "The pitiful meagerness of heartfelt dialogue, direction and acting, so essential in transporting Maugham's three-dimensional figures from book to screen, is noticeable almost from the start of this largely unemotional drama. These are not classically tortured people who emerge whole and alive on film but are, instead, artificially quaint Edwardians who are simply play acting and speaking lines that seem alien to them and the viewer ... Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak ... seem painfully miscast. Mr. Harvey's portrayal is, at best, a succession of basically vacuous, woebegone attitudes. He appears to be more distracted than heartsick or emotionally undone. One wonders what he ever saw, aside from an occasional physical view, in Miss Novak's conception of the ill-fated, blonde Cockney whose East End accent and actions are often a laughable parody of the real articles ... Most of the time, this pallid drama constitutes bondage for a discerning observer."[3]

Time said, "As portrayed by actress Novak, Mildred giggles a lot and speaks cockney like a girl who learned the sound of Bow bells from somewhere in South Chicago."[4]

TV Guide says, "As the doomed pair, Novak and Harvey are passable, but little more than that. Harvey looks too old for the role, and fails to give his character much life, while Novak, although making a valiant attempt, never conveys enough passion to make her role believable. Further denying any dramatic potential is Forbes' uninspired adaptation of Maugham's novel. Rather than probe the psychological make-up of the characters, the script consistently focuses on superficial motivations with all the emotional intensity of a high-school drama-society production."[5]

The film was condemned by the National Legion of Decency for its sexual content and masochism.

Awards and honours



  1. "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965, p. 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. Of Human Bondage at Turner Classic Movies
  3. New York Times review
  4. Time review
  5. TV Guide review
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