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Dark Victory
IMDB Rating: 7.6/10 from 18 votes
Release: 8 September 1939 (Netherlands) /

Dark Victory

Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Casey Robinson,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Judith Traherne is at the height of young society when Dr. Frederick Steele diagnoses a brain tumor. After surgery she falls in love with Steele. The doctor tells her secretary that the tumor will come back and eventually kill her. Learning this, Judith becomes manic and depressive. Her horse trainer Michael, who loves her, tells her to get as much out of life as she can. She marries Steele who intends to find a cure for her illness. As he goes off to a conference in New York failing eyesight indicates to Judith that she is dying. Written by Ed Stephan <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


While I was watching my VHS copy of Dark Victory this afternoon, there was a quote from Bette Davis that her role of Judith Traherne was her most personal and that it was 98% of me.

It certainly is one of her most moving performances on celluloid. The movie is her show as so many of her Warner Brothers films were becoming at this point in her career. The rest of the cast almost stands back in awe of her.

We would call Judith Traherne a trust fund baby these days. Poppa made a fortune and drank himself to death, Mom is over in Europe as an expatriate. And she's got a big house on Long Island where she raises steeple chasers and gives a lot of parties.

But she's not an airhead. Bette Davis never was in any of her films. She's been having headaches and now blurred vision has been thrown in as a complication. When she crashes one of her horses into a side rail we the audience know right away that there are some serious health issues.

Dr. George Brent is called in on the case, he's a brain specialist. He operates and it's a success, but only in terms of relieving the symptoms. She's got a death sentence hanging over her.

The rest of the film is how she deals with it. Only an actress of incredible skill could have brought off the many mood changes that Judith Traherne has. If it wasn't for the fact that 1939 was the Gone With the Wind year, Davis might have gotten a third Oscar. She was nominated and lost to Vivien Leigh.

Humphrey Bogart was in this as her stable groom with an Irish accent that he was clearly uncomfortable with. My guess was that the brogue was there to emphasize the class distinction between Davis and Bogart. I'm not sure it was all that necessary for him, but at least it wasn't as laughable as the Mexican accent in Virginia City.

Geraldine Fitzgerald and Ronald Reagan are on hand as her two close friends. I understand that in the novel this is based on, Reagan's character is gay. This was the days of the Code, so gay was out. Probably in the long run helped Reagan's later career, given his politics playing a gay character wouldn't have gotten him entrée into his crowd. Still both he and Fitzgerald do very well as a couple of her friends who have a lot more character than most of them.

George Brent was Davis's perennial leading man. She was involved with him romantically at some point during her Warner Brothers period, I'm not sure if it was during the making of Dark Victory. He was a competent player who Davis could be sure would never upstage her.

I did however hear a clip from a radio performance of Dark Victory and George Brent's part was played by Spencer Tracy. Though Brent played in fact in the underplaying style that Tracy was known for, I'm sure if Tracy had ever done the film he'd have brought touches to the character that Brent could never have done. What a classic that would have been.

Dark Victory is a moving story that never descends into soap opera. This is Bette Davis at her finest.

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