This 249 minute DVD features the films Of Human Bondage, Kept Husbands, and Millie.
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In the years before Hollywood submitted to the self-imposed censorship of the Production Code, filmmakers were free to use adultery, prohibition drinking, and sexual double standards to explore the moral complexity of the modern age. Of Human Bondage, John Cromwell's adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, is the best-known but perhaps least interesting example in this triple-feature set. Leslie Howard stars as the sensitive would-be artist turned medical student who falls in love with a slutty waitress (Bette Davis, who steals the film with her cold-hearted manipulations and shrill cockney accent), allowing his desire for this vicious little tart to control and almost destroy his life. At a brief 80 minutes, the picture leaves little nourishment between the narrative peaks but is always well-acted and handsomely staged.
Stalwart Joel McCrea is the working-class engineer who marries a spoiled society girl in Kept Husbands. "Dad, I want him more than anything in the world. Can't I have him?" pleads kittenish Dorothy Mackaill, but the tug of war between his work and her play soon tears them apart. Though the plot is sometimes slow, sparkling society wit and humorous working-class platitudes (croaked out by an always entertaining Ned Sparks) add dimension to the familiar story.
Millie, the jewel of the collection, represents everything great about the pre-code era. Sweetly sexy Helen Twelvetrees is Millie, a small-town girl turned big-city woman disillusioned with love, but while she lets the good times roll she never sacrifices her ideals: "I pay my own way," she insists. When a former beau plots to seduce her 16-year-old daughter, however, the worn, sad woman becomes an avenging angel, ready to sacrifice all for the girl. Though highly melodramatic, with adultery and sex to spare, the film drives ahead with wild abandon, with the dynamic Millie centering the drama. --Sean Axmaker
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