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Every once in a while some filmmaker decides to remake a proven audience favorite, adding their own twist to it or updating it for contemporary audiences. This is most prevalent with films featuring strong female characters such as Rain, in which a prostitute named Sadie Thompson clashes with a minister bent on reforming her, Stella Dallas, and Of Human Bondage. In fact, the latter film, based on W. Somerset Maugham's literary classic, has enjoyed three incarnations; first with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in 1934, one in 1946 with Eleanor Parker and Paul Henreid, and a 1964 version with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey.
For those in need of a refresher course on the plot, it goes like this: A medical student named Philip Carey arrives in London after failing to support himself as an artist in Paris. Despite his aristocratic upbringing, Philip suffers from a terrible inferiority complex due to a club foot. Nevertheless, he pursues a Cockney waitress he meets in a tea room and begins an obsessive, self-destructive affair with her.
While most film scholars cite the Bette Davis version as the best adaptation of Maugham's novel, the Kim Novak version of Of Human Bondage (1964) is definitely worth a look for the evocative cinematography of Oswald Morris (Oliver!, 1968) and the production design of John Box (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962) which perfectly captures Edwardian London (filmed at Ardmore Studios near Dublin) with its gas lit streets and dank slum bordellos. The film is also something of a curiosity piece since it was rumored Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey loathed each other on the set and no less than three directors worked on it - Henry Hathaway, Bryan Forbes (he even appears in an uncredited cameo as a medical student and his wife, Nanette Newman, appears in a key role), and Ken Hughes.
Only Ken Hughes, however, receives the director screen credit for Of Human Bondage despite the contributions of Bryan Forbes and Henry Hathaway. The latter left the production in the early stages of filming and was only responsible for a handful of scenes. However, it is interesting to consider what Hathaway might have done with the subject matter, which was far removed from the sort of film he usually directed - Westerns. Between 1965 and 1969, he directed The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), Nevada Smith (1966), Five Card Stud, (1968) and True Grit (1969) which won John Wayne the Best Actor Oscar®. The latter was the last career high point for Hathaway although he did contribute some additional scenes to Airport (1970) for director George Seaton and directed a final Western - Shootout (1971) - before retiring from the film industry in 1975.
Producer: James Woolf
Director: Bryan Forbes, Ken Hughes, Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Bryan Forbes
Production Design: John Box
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Costume Design: Beatrice Dawson
Film Editing: Russell Lloyd
Original Music: Ron Goodwin
Cast: Kim Novak (Mildred Rogers), Laurence Harvey (Philip Carey), Robert Morley (Dr.Jacobs), Siobhan McKenna (Nora Nesbitt), Roger Livesey (Thorpe Athelney), Nanette Newman (Sally Athelney), Jack Hedley (Griffiths).
BW-100m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford