Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Film of the Week: Dark Victory, 1939

From the greatest year of American cinema comes Dark Victory—one of Bette Davis’ best-known roles and one which earned her another Oscar nomination (though she lost to Vivien Leigh for a little picture about the Civil War that came out the same year). Dark Victory was made during Bette’s meteoric rise at Warner Brothers. She was the reigning queen of Hollywood and she knew it, making sure that Warners was giving her the kind of pictures that she and her talent deserved.

Directed by Edmund Goulding and produced by Hal B. Wallis the film features a moving score by Max Steiner. Bette wanted to make sure that Steiner’s often dramatic music didn’t overpower her performance and was rumored to have said, while shooting the film’s climactic scene, “Either I’m going up those stairs, or Max Steiner is going up those stairs, but not the two of us together.”

Still, she went up the stairs. And, so did Steiner, and along the way she shared the screen with Geraldine Fitzgerald, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald “Little Ronnie” Reagan.

Based on the 1934 play of the same name by George Brewer and Bertram Bloch, the picture concerns wealthy, reckless Judith Traherne (Davis) whose carefree lifestyle is threatened when she starts to have dizzy spells, headaches and blurry vision. A visit with a neurosurgeon, Dr. Frederick Steele (Brent) tells Judith that she has a terrible brain tumor. With the support of her best firend/secretary, Ann (Fitzgerald), Judith undergoes a dangerous and complicated operation which she is told has saved her life. Steele, who has fallen in love with Judith, has a secret, however—one which proves to through Judith into a spiral of depression and bad choices.

Davis is superb in the role, despite Max Steiner’s intrusion, and always considered it one of her favorite films. Similarly, Brent and Fitzgerald give brilliant performances. It’s one of the must-see classics that should be part of everyone’s viewing list.

Since the TCM video library is being tricky and there are no YouTube clips from the film which allow embedding, we'll conclude with this fun clip of post-stroke Bette talking about Hal Wallis.


Darcy said...

One of my favorite Bette Davis movies.

Joseph said...

Mine, too!