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DARK VICTORY(director: Edmund Goulding; screenwriters: Casey Robinson/based on the play by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. & Bertram Bloch; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: William Holmes; music: Max Steiner; cast: Bette Davis (Judith Traherne), George Brent (Dr. Frederick Steele), Humphrey Bogart (Michael O’Leary), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Ann King), Ronald Reagan (Alec Hamin), Henry Travers (Dr. Parsons), Cora Witherspoon (Carrie Spottswood); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hal B. Wallis/David Lewis; Warner Bros. ; 1939)
“A classic women’s pic that strings together a collection of syrupy clichés that can make a real man double up in pain.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This dreadful commercial box-office smash and badly dated soap opera weepie is a classic women’s pic that strings together a collection of syrupy clichés that can make a real man double up in pain. It’s based on the play by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. & Bertram Bloch that starred onstage Tallulah Bankhead. Casey Robinson hands in the uninteresting overwrought screenplay. It’s one of the four 1939 films Bette Davis received high accolades for her trademark emotional hammy performances. The other films were The Old Maid, Juarez, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Edmund Goulding (“The Razor’s Edge”/”Of Human Bondage”/”Nightmare Alley”) tries his best to elevate such dreck into sophisticated melodrama and directs it as if it were all a big flim-flam, a film that invites cynicism as germs invite colds. It was remade in 1963 as Stolen Hours with Susan Hayward and fared no better.

Petulant, hyper, obnoxious and headstrong wealthy Long Island heiress and sportswoman Judith Traherne (Davis) lives an empty hedonistic life by partying full-time with the so-called station wagon crowd and sipping cocktails with party animal Alec Hamin (Ronald Reagan). Her best friend and loyal secretary Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) notices Judith is not herself lately, and insists she see her family physician, Dr. Parsons (Henry Travers). He attributes her migraines, blurred vision and loss of feeling to a neurological problem, but the huffy gal refuses to listen to him and continues her active life of playing bridge and riding her steeplechase horse, in which she has a fall causing her to come down from her high horse and confess to Ann about her physical problems. Finally the obstinate Judith consents to see brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), Parson’s good friend, and he alters his plans to give up his brain surgery practice to do research to operate on her brain tumor. But his operation only allows for her to live a few more months without pain; nevertheless the society doctor has fallen in love with Judith and marries her (don’t ask me why, that’s just the way this incredulous script bounces), and he and Ann decide to withhold from Judith this info about her impending demise so she could live in his Vermont retreat an active and happy life until the end. Naturally Judith discovers on her own the truth and decides to be brave and come up with a dark victory. When our Judith climbs the stairs for the last time, composer Max Steiner springs into action with his grating choirs of angels score to let us know this is it for the old gal–it was that kind of a cornball flick.

A miscast Humphrey Bogart pops up as the horse trainer on Judith’s estate, who speaks with a broad Irish brogue that is as phony as a leprechaun.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”