WB Top 100: Dark Victory (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


This week’s movie comes all the way to us from 1939. “Dark Victory” is a film you likely have never heard of though you may recognize some names from its cast: Bette Davis, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan. It may have even won a few Academy Awards if it didn’t have to compete with “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” (both of which will be in this series).

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Ann, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald on the left. Judith, played by Bette Davis, on the right.

“Dark Victory” stars Bette Davis as a young, affluent woman who is carefree and never careful. She drinks, she parties, she smokes, etc. She suffers terrible headaches for months and soon begins to lose her vision. Her dwindling health is only discovered by the family doctor after an accident on her favorite horse and a tumble down the stairs afterward denying her unhealth.

The movie is pure drama with some romance thrown in. We had no idea what to expect, but this is a film that tries to make you cry. It almost succeeded too based on the excellent performances. Everyone here brings their A game, especially Bette Davis, whose character is full of life up until the point where she has to face her own premature death.

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I liked George Brent in this role though I wish he had a real mustache.

The cast surrounding her is also excellent. George Brent plays her surgeon and love interest. His character Dr. Steele is caring, though he tries to hide the results of her surgery from Bette Davis’s Judith and her best friend, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ann. Ann soon finds out anyway, which plays out in several heart wrenching scenes of the frowning Ann listening to her best friend Judith go on about how she will live her life again without worry.

Geraldine Fitzgerald is easily the weakest of the cast. She has a way of overacting that forces her to dab anytime something truly dramatic happens and she needs to cover her face. That’s not to say she actively hurts the movie though.

Humphrey Bogart also makes an appearance, though in a very limited role. He plays a stable hand and trainer for Judith’s horses. He doesn’t do much, but he is hard to miss. He has a calm, coolness on display in all of his scenes.

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Ronald Reagan’s hair never moved an inch.

This was also our first time having any real exposure to Ronald Reagan as an actor. He plays a young booze hound who is caught drinking in nearly every scene he is in. With today’s current political climate, it is less entertaining seeing a president in such a state, but I was pleased by how much charisma he had in so few scenes. In particular, we both loved the scene where, paraphrasing, he excuses himself from a private moment between Judith and Dr. Steele by saying he is going to cook eggs and bacon and then admits he only said that as a means to politely excuse himself. Not exactly a sly character!

If I have any real complaint about the movie, then it is its length. I don’t recall the specific run time, but given that its a drama about a woman who knows she will soon die, she takes an awfully long time to do it. I felt like the middle and latter parts of the movie drag. While there weren’t any specific scenes I’d remove, I would’ve edited the ending to occur sooner and feel less dragged out.

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I also feel like Humphrey Bogart’s character professing his love for and kissing Judith was 100% unneeded.

Diane had less complaints than me. If anything, she thought the movie’s length was beneficial as it helped show the character growth for Bette Davis’s character. I agree and it is likely more a personal dislike for straight dramas that has me wishing I hadn’t spent so long with this one.

Overall, “Dark Victory” holds up though I doubt I’d ever revisit it. If anything, it is a wonderful trivia question answer if you were to ever wonder when so much star power was gathered in one place. It’s also a great introduction to a set of stars we will likely see more of in the future of this project. I know Humphrey will be back very soon.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.


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