Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dark Victory

I've mentioned Dark Victory a couple of times, but never actually done a full review of it here. TCM is airing it tonight at 10:00 PM ET as part of the TCM salute to the films of 1939, so today is a good time to do that full review.

Bette Davis stars as Judith Traherne, a spoiled adult brat. She's used to getting whatever she wants, and because she's living off her late father's estate, that whatever is quite a lot. She spends her days driving her roadster and running her horses, living it up with friends like Ronald Reagan and Geraldine Fitzgerald. All this changes one day, however, when she finds that her blurry, double vision is preventing her from taking jumps with her horse. She doesn't want a doctor, of course; she's too proud for that. But a doctor is necessary, and eventually they bring in specialist Dr. Frederick Steele, played by George Brent, who was perenially getting the leading man parts opposite Davis in the 1930s. What happens next is obvious: the doctor and his patient are going to fall in love.

Unfortunately, though, that love is going to be tragic. Dr. Steele has diagnosed Judith as having a glioma, a type of brain tumor that's eventually going to kill her: prognosis negative, as he writes in her medical chart in the movie. However, he's been able to operate on her and relieve the symptoms to the point that she won't have any symptoms until maybe a half day before she dies, when she'll suddenly go blind. On top of that, he's loath to tell her of her impending death. But, you know she's bound to find out soon enough. Will that spoil the love between doctor and patient? Will Judith be able to live out her last months enjoying life? Well, I'm not going to give those away.

I wrote once in another forum, before I was blogging, that Dark Victory is the sort of movie that screams "chick flick!" and won't shut the hell up. It's melodramatic, to the point of groan-inducing and beyond. Bette Davis is hamming it up as much as she always does, and George Brent is about as exciting as he always is, which is to say not very. Reagan is OK as one of Davis' socialite friends, except for the fact that his likeable eternal optimism shines through as it always does, and it's no so fitting here. Worst, however, is Humphrey Bogart. He was cast in this movie as Davis' Irish stablehand, complete with terrible brogue. It's a role for which Bogart was badly miscast, and Bogart seems to play the part as though he was wondering, "What am I doing in this role?"

That having been said, if you like chick flicks, you'll love Dark Victory. It has been released to DVD as well.

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