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Dark Victory

June 16, 2013

by John Farr

John Farr discusses the first great melodrama starring Bette Davis, directed by Edmund Goulding.


Dark Victory (1939)

What It’s About: Headstrong Long Island heiress Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) lives life to the fullest, swilling stiff cocktails and chain-smoking as she flits from one party to another. But a bout of recurring headaches and fainting spells sends her to the doctor, where she learns she has a brain tumor. Following a successful operation, Judith falls in love with her surgeon, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), but her high spirits are undercut by the news that the procedure has offered only a brief reprieve.

Why I Love It:
Based on Casey Robinson’s stage drama, which starred Tallulah Bankhead, this Oscar-nominated weepie about a dying socialite trying to find happiness in the remaining months of her life scored with audiences in 1939, and it’s not hard to see why. The luminous Davis is superb, convincingly transforming herself from a bossy, devil-may-care horse breeder into a down-to-earth, spiritually humble human being. Humphrey Bogart does a sprightly turn as an Irish stable hand (yes, it’s true), and also watch for Ronald Reagan, who’s terrific as Judith’s suitor, Alec Hamin. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, “Dark Victory” is your ticket to tearful bliss.

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