Of Human Bondage

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1934 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time
82:38 minutes
(not 90 minutes as stated on packaging)
Other Extras Menu Audio
Poster Gallery
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director John Cromwell
Starring Leslie Howard
Bette Davis
Frances Dee
Kay Johnson
Reginald Denny
Alan Hale
Reginald Sheffield
Reginald Owen
Desmond Roberts
Tempe Pigott
Case Alpha
RRP $19.95 Music Max Steiner

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG No
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes, frequent
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    A lot of the time when we are called upon to review a movie of the vintage of Of Human Bondage, we look at it as more of a historical amusement rather than as the preservation of a classic movie. Frequently, the movies are of dubious artistic merit, and no amount of packaging hype can obscure this fact. Of Human Bondage, in contrast, is an excellent drama, and pretty much holds its own story-wise to this day. There are a few obvious clangers which show that this movie is 60 years old (Bette Davis commenting on her screenplay age - "I'm getting on...24") but the story is as valid today as it was in 1934 when this movie was made.

    Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) is a very sensitive man. He is a medical student, having been dissuaded from pursuing an artistic career by his father. He has a club foot. This disability bothers him considerably more than it bothers other people. Philip sees a woman in a cafe - Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) - and is smitten by her. She is a real femme fatale, and takes advantage of him outrageously. She mistreats him severely, but he is so besotted by her that he keeps coming back for more. As an audience, we really feel for Philip, who simply cannot get Mildred out of his mind despite knowing exactly how she will treat him each and every time she comes back into his life. Philip's besottedness over Mildred leads to him virtually ignoring other potential women in his life; Norah (Kay Johnson) is very fond of Philip but her feelings are not reciprocated, and Sally (Frances Dee) seems to take a back seat every time Philip gets involved with Mildred. You really want to get on-screen and tell Philip in no uncertain terms to wake up and smell the roses, but you can also sympathize with how he feels. Indeed, this whole movie is themed around unrequited love and the adverse effects this has on the participants.

Transfer Quality


    The cover of this DVD proclaims boldly; "Digitally Re-Mastered From Original Print". I seriously doubt the veracity of this claim. The lack of clarity in this transfer strongly suggests an analogue videotape source for this transfer rather than a new telecine from an original print.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    This black-and-white transfer is severely lacking in clarity. In fact, I would go so far as to describe this transfer as no better in quality than VHS videotape. It is very soft indeed and is extremely grainy. Blacks are not very black and whites are not very white. The latter parts of the transfer are of better quality than the very poor quality early parts of this transfer, but they are still quite mediocre in quality. Shadow detail is quite lacking, but this has as much to do with the original photography than anything to do with the transfer itself. Low level noise is frequently present in the darker sections of the image, marring the overall quality of the transfer and giving away the analogue heritage of this transfer.

    Being a black-and-white transfer, there is no colour at all, other than on the menus and during the copyright message which has clearly been taken from a very poor quality VHS tape - the colour bleed and chroma noise exhibited during the copyright message is dreadful.

    MPEG artefacting is rare and only occurs during cross-fades and pans where very slight macro-blocking becomes evident in the backgrounds of the very grainy images. Film-to-video artefacts are absent, but film artefacts are copious, plentiful and quite marked, some to the extent of being considerably distracting. Reel change markings are noticeable in the upper right hand corner of the image at times, and there are several brief skips in the audio and video streams as the result of missing frames in the source material. The worst of these skips occurs at 4:40.


    There is only a single audio track on this DVD; English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural.

    The dialogue was relatively easy to understand despite being 60-year-old compressed frequency-limited optical audio. No audio sync problems were noted.

    This DVD exhibits a number of major problems with its audio. A very loud and nearly constant hum is present throughout the entire soundtrack. This could easily have been eliminated with some remastering of the soundtrack or at least with some notch filtering, so it is a disappointment that this spurious noise is present on this DVD. Even a simple high-pass filter would have significantly eliminated this artefact given the frequency-limited nature of this soundtrack. In addition to this, pops, crackles, and noise persist throughout the soundtrack. Loud pops frequently mar edits in the image, with a loud thump signalling many edits, especially early on in the soundtrack.

    The music on this DVD was written by Max Steiner and is moderately suited to the on-screen action. One significant mis-match occurred when a jaunty tune accompanied Mildred during a particularly dramatic scene but the score was otherwise undistinguished, generic and somewhat melodramatic.

    The surround and subwoofer channels were not used.



    This is in colour and carries background audio in faux stereo.


    A brief biography and filmography of Bette Davis.

Poster Gallery

    Three promotional posters for the movie with background music. The usual DVD navigation buttons are inoperative during this extra and the posters change very slowly.

R4 vs R1

    This disc is not available in Region 1.


    Of Human Bondage is an excellent film on a poor quality DVD.

    The video quality is very poor.

    The audio quality is very poor.

    The extras are extremely limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Demtschyna (read bio)
23rd February 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Start SD-2001VNK, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 4:3 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Hsu Research TN-1220HO  subwoofer