Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dark Victory (1939)

Dark Victory (1939) is a tear-jerker to end all tear-jerkers. Judith Trahearne (Bette Davis) has been diagnosed with Glioma by Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Glioma is a type of brain tumor that when malignant almost certainly means a death sentence. It's pretty serious and we as the audience are full aware of this as we watch Judith deal with her impending death at the tender age of 23. This film showcases Bette Davis' talent as an actress. She's expressive, emotive, delivers dialogue well and her character is so believable that it seems only Bette Davis was meant for this role. In the role department, Humphrey Bogart didn't fare as well as George Brent or Geraldine Fitzgerald in this movie. Bogie plays Michael O'Leary (he again tries an accent, this time Irish and doesn't quite manage to get it right), Judith's resident stable man and horse trainer. He looks after her prize racing horse, tends to all the horses in the stable as though they were his children and coaches Judith in her equestrian pursuits. He appears in the beginning of the film, a couple of times throughout and towards the end but only has one notable scene towards the climax of the film when Judith is in utter despair. It's at this point Michael reveals his love (in my opinion it's only lust) for Judith and she in turn reveals her tragic fate. It's not the best role for Bogie but he did well with it. The role is definitely not as bad as Ronald Reagan's character Alec who is a perma-drunk party-goer who acts like a leech around Judith, filling her (and himself) up with drinks and only sticking around when the going gets fun. At least there is Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) as the voice of sympathy and caring to balance things out. This really isn't Bogie's movie, it's Bette Davis'. It's a movie that almost didn't get made because Jack Warner didn't want to make it. Lucky for us, Bette Davis didn't take no for an answer.


  1. great film! might be my candidate for all time champion tear jerker! to me the place this film falls short the most is George Brent. he's a competent actor, though a bit on the wooden side (gotta love the Devo hair though!) but i always imagine how much different this would have been with Spencer Tracy as the Dr, someone who could really match Davis on screen. Bogie was just totally wrong for his role but at the time it was probably not bad for his career to be seen in something like this. Bette more than makes up for the films few shortcomings though, she simply amazing!

  2. Paul - Is George Brent more wooden than George Raft? I think Brent is the better of the too. I don't mind him. I always groan when I see Raft on screen but I end up enjoying the movie and his "wooden" performance anyways! What were the film's shortcomings if you don't mind me asking?

  3. no Brent is a better actor i think, certainly more versatile, I thought he was quite good in things like Purchase price, Jezebel, Snowed Under, Living on Velvet, and several others whereas Raft bascially played the same guy in every film i ever saw him in.

    but in Dark Victory as i stated above a stronger more dynamic male lead like Tracy would have elevated the entire film, to me anyway. its still great, man i love it and with Brent there it means it's Bette's film all the way because he cant hold a candle to her for onscreen electricity, but few can right? apparently that is one reason Brent was so popular at WB, the female stars loved him because he was competent but bland enough so that they werent worried he would upstage them!
    so i guess that is what i would call its biggest shortcoming and having Bogie as the irish stable boy was not the best idea in the world either. Bogie and the film deserved better.

    btw i watched They Drive by Night tonight. god i love that film, what a blast and 'Ides' is amazing! might be Raft's best film!

  4. oh i thought i should mention that the first month i had TCM back in 1997 Brent was the star of the month and i saw 49 of his films, lol!

  5. Dark Victory is one of the best tear jerkers of all time. Classic film. I love it. Good choice Raquelle.

  6. What is the symphonic music the string band plays during Judith's lunch after finding out her diagnosis. I know it well but can't name it!


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