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Film Review of Dark Victory: a Party Girl with a Known Shelf Life Deals with a Bad Hand of Cards

A party girl confronts life’s deepest truth. Fortune and friends do not keep a life perfect. Will she find the courage to turn bad luck into the "Dark Victory" of a brave death?


Contentment and courage constitute a Dark Victory by writer Casey Robinson, producer Hal B. Wallis, and director Edmund Goulding. Ernie Haller, William Holmes, and Max Steiner handle cinematography, editing, and music. Filming showcases California.

The 104-106-minute film adapts Bertram Bloch’s (1892-1987) and George Emerson Brewer Jr.’s (1899-1968) same-named play of 1934. It was distributed by Warner Bros. It was premiered and U.S.-released on April 20 and 22, 1939. It won no Oscars at the 12th Academy Awards despite nominations for Best Leading Actress, Original Score, and Picture.

The movie begins with 110-pound, 23-year-old Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) heading steeplechaser Challenger into fences and then tumbling down her mansion’s stairs. Doctor Parsons (Henry Travers), who delivered Judy, is concerned that previously Judy ran into a Colony lady’s umbrella and a Park Avenue resident’s leashed dog. He refers Judith to Dr. Steele (George Brent).

Frederick abandons a nine-year practice. He expects to leave in 45 minutes. He is upset about a patient who died after successful brain surgery. He plans to conduct brain cell research in his property’s private medical lab.

Fred diagnoses Judith with glioma based upon:

  • Blurriness;
  • Headaches;
  • Paralyzed left arm/hand sensory nerves.

He extricates part of the brain tumor. Judith recuperates in Fairview Hospital room 426 and then home.

Both doctors decide not to inform Judith of her blindness a few hours before dying peacefully from the cancer’s recurrence in 3-6 months. Judith’s friend/secretary Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) gets the truth. She keeps quiet while Fred and Judith become engaged.

Judith finds her file while talking with Fred’s secretary, Miss Wainwright (Dorothy Peterson). She meets Ann and Fred for lunch to break the engagement. She returns to partying with friend Alec (Ronald Reagan) and racing with stablehand Michael O’Leary (Humphrey Bogart).

Both men love Judith. She reveals her fate to Michael while they monitor Jessica’s Girl’s respiration and put out tack room fires. Michael tells Judy to stop drinking, partying, and smoking. Judy visits Alec, who goes to make breakfast bacon and eggs while Judy has alone-time with Alec’s house guest, Fred.

Fred and Judy get married. They move to Brattleboro, Vermont. Three months later, Michael visits, to inform Judy of Challenger’s entry with 6:4 winning odds in Philadelphia’s Grand National.

The movie ends with:

  • Fred going to NYC alone after Judy realizes that diminished vision makes a warm day seem overcast while planting Fred’s favorite hyacinths;
  • Ann, who arrives from renting out Judy’s house, promising to take care of Fred;
  • Judy saying goodbye to dogs Daffy and Don before Martha (Virginia Brissac) tucks her in with the bed’s coverlet.

Copyright:  Thursday, June 6, 2013 by Derdriu. 



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