I'd like to spank the Academy

Dark Victory (1939)

dark victory posterDirected by Edmund Goulding

People who care about such things may notice that I have gone out of order. Yes, I realize d comes before g in the alphabet, so yes, this should have been the first review of the week. But I don’t watch the movies in alphabetical order; I watch them as I want to watch them. And I had watched Goodbye, Mr. Chips earlier in the week, but stupid daylight savings time prevented me from getting to Dark Victory until later than I wanted. So write your congressman and say you want to put an end to daylight savings time.

So what’s the story? The reason I hadn’t watched Dark Victory was that the story just didn’t appeal to me. Judith Traherne is a young sporting socialite; she breeds and rides horses and hunts and all that kind of stuff. She’s had blinding headaches for the last six months, but when she misses a jump when riding her horse, she realizes something is seriously wrong. She is diagnosed with a brain tumor and has it removed, but the doctor knows that someday it will come back; Judith will be dead before then end of a year.

The Good: This movie had the potential to be either incredibly melodramatic or deadly dull. In order to avoid that, the viewer has to care about Judith. Bette Davis makes you care. Judith tries to pretend that she’s not really worried at the beginning, but Bette Davis lets us see beneath the strong words and actions to the scared young woman. She glows when she falls in love; she becomes tough, yet brittle when she feels like that love has betrayed her. I  found myself in complete sympathy with Judith, even though our lives are so very different. If this movie had starred a lesser actress, it would have been soapy garbage. Bette Davis saved it from that.

The supporting cast is also stellar. Geraldine Fitzgerald as Judith’s personal secretary and best friend is a standout. I hadn’t seen her in anything before, but I think I get to see her in a few more nominees, which makes me happy.

The Bad: Max Steiner wrote the soundtrack for this film, and the music is nice, but it’s  very dramatic. I realize that that was the trend of the time, but I like my soundtracks to be a little more subtle.

The Ugly: I think the fact that Bette Davis is so good kind of highlights a major weakness of this movie. The storyline is tripe. It’s silly and contrived and over dramatic. My advice for watching this movie is to allow yourself to get swept up in the fabulous acting and don’t think too hard about anything else. Also, Humphrey Bogart in a small supporting role with a bad fake Irish accent? No. Very ugly.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Bette Davis); best music, original score.

Fun fact: There’s a very attractive young playboy in Dark Victory who looked kind of familiar to me, but I couldn’t place him, so I looked him up on IMDb. Turns out the very attractive playboy would be president of the United States a little over forty years later. Weird.

Comments on: "Dark Victory (1939)" (2)


    Haha just kidding.

    I know you’re talking about George Bush, Sr.


    Your first paragraph made me laugh really hard. I’m so glad my current country-of-residence has its priorities straight re: Daylight Savings. Sure, Internet may be iffy at best, and food (when you can get it) is exorbitantly priced, but hey! No weird daylight savings time!

    I don’t have any comment on the actual movie itself, which sounds kind of bland, except that I’m grateful Bette Davis saved the day. Is she ever NOT amazing? She’s, like, the Meryl Streep of Golden Age Hollywood.


    • That’s the funny thing. It does sound completely bland, but Bette Davis is so ridiculously good that you don’t even notice it’s bland until after. I was like, “Huh. That was really kind of a melodramatic plot. And about an aristocrat. Why should I have cared?” But Bette Davis, man. She’s crazy good.


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