Mildred The Conniver
Having been previously performed by Bette Davis in the 1934 RKO Radio
production of "Of Human Bondage," to this day film afficionados and film
critics still debate as to who gave the better performance, was it the
legendary Bette Davis or was it the then up and coming starlet Eleanor Parker?
In reviewing the referenced 1946 movie several times, I have to say that we are talking oranges and bananas--two different styles and two different adaptations. Both were exceptionally good in my view, but it was the Parker interpretation that stood out the most to me. To think that the young Parker demonstrated such a grasp of such harsh life circumstances, and maintained it throughout the entire film without a miss, is to me rather extraordinary.
Eleanor Parker's Portrayal:
Her command of the Cockney speech patterns fooled
even the true Brits who appeared in the film, and she
managed to maintain the accent throughout the entire
film. Not too many actors can do this. At some time,
even an experienced actor can miss a beat somewhere.
Not Parker. In the industry, she would soon be known
as "one-take" Parker.
Her body movements are reminiscent of those who know
of an actor's need to not only project emotions, but to
move with them as well. Even when "Mildred" didn't
appear on screen, her haunting of the weak and miserable
"Phillip Carey" maintained her presence in his tormented mind
--and in the mind of audiences as well.
You just couldn't wait to see what she'd come up with next to make his pitiful life descend to an even lower level in his own self-created abyss. The infamous scene where Mildred tears up Phillip's art works and his flat as well remain impressive to say the very least. Director Edmund Goulding told Parker, "We can only do this once." And one time is all that it took with Eleanor Parker. Played with enraged penache, if there is such a thing, it far exceeded the same scene played by Davis years earlier. Goulding later said that she was the best thing in Hollywood since Garbo and that she was one of the five great actresses in America.
To summarize, the upcoming, young and beautiful Warner Brother starlet, Eleanor Parker, owns the movie--whether she was on screen or not. Unfortunately, it is said that the movie was torn up by inept editing and whatever else they did to it. Sadly, while her performance was critically acclaimed in England, it fizzed in the United States at the box office.
Alexis Smith who was a major star at Warner Brothers at the time, didn't even make a dent in the final cut. As Phillip Carey, I found Paul Henreid just as boring and annoying as Lesley Howard who previously played opposite Bette Davis. Just my take people, just my take. Only the presence of true Brits, stunningly handsome Patric Knowles, and charming Edmund Gwenn, added credible substance to the riveting performance of Eleanor Parker. Are both versions worth a viewing? Yes, if only because they're both adapted from what some people consider a literary classic. Who made the better Mildred? I'd say Eleanor Parker had the edge, but that's not to slight the outstanding performance of Bette Davis in any lesser degree.
Kristen Rae Johnson