Critic Pauline Kael called this shamelessly enjoyable, vintage Bette Davis weepie a "kitsch classic," and time hasn't diminished its ability to give the tear ducts a good flushing. Davis plays a swinging socialite, living ... more »the fast life of booze, smokes, and--with the help of Humphrey Bogart as her Irish stableman--raising thoroughbred horses. When a brain tumor starts giving her headaches and eroding her vision, she falls in love with her surgeon (George Brent), who grows more determined than ever to cure her. Davis gives one of her most vibrant performances, and her costars also include Ronald Reagan and Geraldine Fitzgerald. The film received Oscar nominations for best picture, best actress, and for Max Steiner's score. --Jim Emerson« less
REVIEWS HAILED THIS AS DAVIS'S FINEST ACHIEVEMENT!
Scott Barkley | Carmel,California | 12/07/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In one the the best remembered films of the thirties,Bette Davis gives beautifully modulated performance as Judith Traherne, the dying wealthy Long Island playgirl. Geraldine Fitzgerald is superb as Judith's friend and secretary, Ann King,a character written especially for the movie. Humphrey Bogart plays Michael O'Leary, an Irish horse trainer with somewhat less conviction, although George Brent gives his finest performance as Dr. Frederick Steele (whom Judy eventually marries.) Ronald Reagan (in a role he reportedly despised) plays the weak, drunken Alex, one of Davis's swains. Davis is magnificent throughout; her Judy is wild, spoiled and cheeky in the beginning and her amazing metamorphisis to a vibrantly happy and humbled young married woman is fascinating to observe on film. Legendary columnist Hedda Hopper claimed Davis always gave her best performances when she was in love and here it was apparent (the object of her affections was George Brent!).The famous planting scene in the garden had to be re-shot many times; Davis felt such empathy for her character that she would be reduced to tears. Tallulah Bankhead flopped when she played Judith Traherne on stage in 1934. Highly recommended as a prime example of just why people rave about this legendary first lady of the silver screen!"
Outstanding Bette Davis vehicle
Matthew Horner | USA | 12/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Dark Victory" is atypical for a Hollywood movie made in 1939 [or for that matter, for one made today] because it deals with terminal illness and it doesn't have a happy ending. The medical profession back then was less honest about the subject. A common procedure was to assure the patient that they were doing fine, even when the prognosis was negative. This deceptive practice and other factors date the movie, but Bette Davis' stunning performance as Judith Traherne always has and always will define the movie. For that reason alone, it is still eminently watchable. Judith is a vivacious, carefree member of Long Island society. Her passions are parties, her friends and her horses. After being thrown from her favorite horse, she admits to her best friend, Ann [Geraldine Fitzgerald] that the cause of the accident was a sudden blurring of her vision. This, she admits, is not the first time she's had this problem. After much cajoling of the stubborn, frightened Judith, Ann gets her to a specialist, Dr. Frederick Steel [George Brent], who diagnosis her as having a rare illness. An operation, which is unsuccessful, ensues, but the truth is withheld from Judith. During all this, patient and doctor fall in love with each other. Both the illness and Steel's well intended but deceitful way of dealing with it led to serious complications. Fitzgerald is excellent as Ann, George Brent [a matinee idol in his time] is adequate, but Humphrey Bogart, whose stardom was sill several years away, is wasted as Michael, Judith's horse trainer. His Irish accent is not at all good. You'll hardly notice, though, because your thoughts and eyes will always be on Davis. She displays virtually every human emotion, seemingly without effort. One of her great scenes is the one in which Dr. Steele is examining her for the first time. Her voice is bright and gay as she makes light about her problem, but her eyes and hands are telling us something completely different - fear to the point of terror. Reams have been written about how difficult Davis was to work with. In "Dark Victory", one can see part of the reason. She was so gifted that finding someone who could successfully play opposite her must have been a nearly impossible task. She made movies in which, I suspect, she was so angry and/or depressed that, consciously or not, she played a parody of herself. These movies created Davis the caricature. "Dark Victory" is not one of them. Here, Davis brilliantly plays an ordinary woman dealing with her own mortality. Highly recommended for this reason alone."
GREAT MOVIE GETS A DISMAL TRANSFER
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 03/02/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Bette Davis is outstanding as Judy Traherne, a Long Island rich girl with a fatal brain tumor. For a time Judy believes that she's been cured, a myth supported by her doctor (George Brent)who is starting to fall in love with her. Cameos by Ronald Reagan and Humphrey Bogart are welcomed inclusions that enhance the film's dramatic appeal.
Unfortunately, Warner acquired this title from a tired, worn print in the MGM library. The print is full of grain, chips, scratches, inconsistant shadow and contrast delineation and digital grit. There are several occasions where the entire image within the frame wobbles up and down, due to worn out sprocket holes. The visual experience during such instances is akin to riding a canoe through choppy seas. The audio is strident and scratchy. Overall this is a disappointing visual experience and one that Warner needs to rectify soon, before we lose this great classic forever to the ravages of time."
Prognosis . . positive.
mr_nasty | 09/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is one of Davis's best, and she definitely would've taken home the Oscar the year this film was made (1939) if not for Vivien Leigh coming along and spoiling things with "Gone With the Wind." Bette plays Judith Traherne (another role which originated on the stage with Tallulah Bankhead . . unfortunately there, unlike here, it was a flop), one of her strongest protagonists outside of Margo Channing in "All About Eve": a spoiled, carefree girl whose life is endangered by a brain tumor. George Brent plays the doctor who operates on her and eventually becomes her husband; he's adequate, but Davis's performance makes up for Brent's rather cardboard portrayal of the doctor (she talks at about twice the speed he does). There's also a couple early performances by Ronald Reagan (as a rich friend of Davis's) and Humphrey Bogart (as her stablehand . . he also has a tiny crush on our heroine). One of the nicest surprises about this movie is the terrific performance by Geraldine Fitzgerald, as Davis's best friend Ann . . their final scene together is just tremendous. Bigtime Davis fans (like me) may chuckle just a bit at Davis's Judith as she progresses through the "bitterness" stage of her grief (one scene in particular is when she's ordering in the restaurant: "I'd like a healthy dose of . . PROGNOSIS NEGATIVE!") An outstanding film from an actress who could do worlds better with a bad script than most actors could do with good ones."
Nelson Aspen | Los Angeles & NYC, USA | 05/06/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tour de force camp fest for Bette Davis and her legions of fans. Almost every cliche that has become fodder for Davis impersonators (from Carol Burnett to Charles Pierce) are in this one...the swagger, the clipped speech, the cigarette holder and chronic/constant puffing, the one-line jabs and popping eyes. This one is elevated from mere melodrama by an admirable supporting cast and top notch production values. But if the genre isn't your cuppa, it will be a long 104 minutes.
This DVD print is wonderful. Crystal clear...looks and sounds terrific and the real reason to include this one in your library of classics. The commentary track, unfortunately, is virtually worthless..the two film afficianadoes offer little more than their own ooh'ing and aah'ing. Better off calling it an "opinion" track."