© 1939 Edmund Goulding

Dark Victory (1939)

I’ve really been enjoying Bette Davis movies lately, and I finally got around to seeing one of her most famous films of the ‘40s, Dark Victory. I almost gave up on this when I saw Ronald Regan’s name in the opening credits. But this is Bette’s party, and I wasn’t about to let Ronnie ruin it. Regan is just as full of himself and annoying in his role as he was in real life, but thankfully his role was very small.

Bette Davis is great as a fiery and spoiled socialite who drinks champagne all night, sleeps till noon and goes horseback riding every day. An underused Humphrey Bogart plays the horse trainer who in enamored with her, despite the fact that she is constantly humiliating him to keep him in his place. But this heiress’s life is not so perfect—she has headaches and blurred vision that are not only cause by hangovers. A handsome doctor (George Brent) who has been planning to move away to Vermont where he can concentrate on his research agrees to take on one last patient, and they fall in love. But her best friend/secretary (Geraldine Fitzgerald) also develops “feelings” for the doctor.

The doctor performs brain surgery which is a success, but follow-up exams reveal she has only a few months and will die a very cinematic death, being healthy for the next four months, and then losing her vision only three hours before she dies. How the doctor is able to predict her demise with so much accuracy is never explained. He tries to keep the seriousness of her condition a secret, but she finds out, hates him, forgives him, marries him and loves him in that order. As she comes to accept her fate, she works to set things up so her friend can take over her life, house and husband, a plot point which was pretty closely ripped off in Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me (2003).

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