|Bette Davis and George Brent|
"You might fold up and I might fold up, but that horse has the breeding."
An outstanding performance by Bette Davis is the cornerstone of this tearjerker that deals with a dying wealthy woman who falls in love with her doctor. Judith Traherne (Davis) has headaches and vision problems, and is afraid to see anyone about it. Finally her family physician (Henry Travers) arranges for her to be examined by Dr. Fred Steele (George Brent), whose initial diagnosis is glioma [this is not a phony Hollywood word but is actually a general term for any tumor in the brain that arises in the supporting tissue]. Steele performs surgery on Judith, but learns that her illness will reoccur and there is nothing to be done to prevent her eventual death. A happy, unknowing Judith goes on planning her life while her doctors and secretary/best friend Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) try to keep the truth from her ... Dark Victory is what's known as a "well-mounted soaper" and it is graced by Davis in one of her best performances, a lovely Fitzgerald, and even Brent delivers with perhaps more sensitivity than usual. Ernest Haller's photography is also excellent. But like most soap operas, Dark Victory is terribly contrived at times, and its look at terminal illness is almost offensively stupid -- like most movies that treated the subject at this time, the sick person looks more beautiful the closer they come to dying, which is completely absurd. (Davis does look beautiful in the movie, however.) One of the stupider moments has Steele, without the slightest prelude, telling a terrified patient, Judith, "We have to operate!" just so the scene can be more dramatic. The whole business of Judith looking and feeling absolutely normal until just before her death is also ludicrous, but it means Davis can wear some striking evening wear throughout the movie. Humphrey Bogart isn't bad as the Traherne's horse trainer, and has one very interesting scene when he comes on to Judith in the stable. Ronald Regan makes virtually no impression as one of Judith's friends, but Dorothy Peterson as the nurse Miss Wainwright, and Virginia Brissac as the maid Martha, are more on the mark. "Give Me Time for Tenderness" is warbled -- and very nicely -- by Vera Van in a nightclub scene (although some sources say it was Mary Currier, who may have acted the part and been dubbed). One must assume Dr. Steele is rich because he seems to spend months doing nothing but attending to Judith (or else he gives her a mighty big bill). Dark Victory is very well directed by Edmund Goulding, who guided Davis to do some of her best work in pictures, The Old Maid being a case in point. Goulding also directed Davis and Brent in The Great Lie. This was remade 26 years later as Stolen Hours aka Summer Flight starring Susan Hayward.
Verdict: Yes, a "well-mounted soaper" with a splendid Davis. ***.