DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Edmund Goulding
Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Henry Travers, Cora Witherspoon, Dorothy Peterson
Writing Credits:
George Emerson Brewer Jr. (play), Bertram Bloch (play), Casey Robinson

Bette Davis' bravura, moving-but-never-morbid performance as Judith Traherne, a dying heiress determined to find happiness in her few remaining months, remains a three-hankie classic. But that success would never have happened if Davis hadn't pestered studio brass to buy Dark Victory's story rights. Jack Warner finally did so ... skeptically. "Who wants to see a dame go blind?" he said. Almost everyone it seemed. Dark Victory was Davis' biggest box-office hit up to that time. It reaped huge critical acclaim and won three 1939 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Actress and Original Score (Max Steiner). Accolades also went to fellow cast members Geraldine Fitzgerald, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan and Henry Travers. "If it were an automobile," Newsweek wrote, Dark Victory "would be a Rolls-Royce." With Davis in the driver's seat, it's the perfect match of star and vehicle.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital Monaural
Castillian Spanish Dolby Digital Monaural
Latin Spanish
Castillian Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Latin Spanish
Castillian Spanish

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 6/9/2015

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian James Ursini and CNN Film Critic Paul Clinton
• “1939: Tough Competition for Dark Victory” Documentary
• “Warner Night at the Movies” Compilation
• 1940 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Dark Victory [Blu-Ray] (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 9, 2015)

Back in the year 2000, I slogged through a quest to see all of the Best Picture nominees from 1939. For the most part, I encountered films about which I already knew something, whether they were movies I'd seen in the past such as Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz or at least ones with which I possessed some familiarity like Wuthering Heights or Love Affair.

Dark Victory, however, was a fish of a completely different color. I watched this title simply because of its Oscar connection, and I did so with absolutely no foreknowledge of its story, its cast - nothing!

Wealthy socialite Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) starts to experience headaches and vision problems. These deteriorate to the point where she collapses and falls down some steps. Brain surgeon Dr. Fred Steele (George Brent) plans to leave his practice and go back to research, but Judith’s family physician Dr. Parsons (Henry Travers) badgers Steele to examine the case.

Once Steele examines Judith, the case intrigues him, so he postpones his plans to leave town. He discovers she has glioma and needs an operation. Unfortunately, it turns out that she’s incurable and doctors feel she has only about 10 months to live. Steele decides not to tell her this, as he prefers to let her enjoy her final time on earth.

During her blissful ignorance, Judith falls in love with Steele. The doctor proclaims his affection for her as well despite his sadness over her plight. We watch their interactions through the rest of the flick as well as Judith’s inexorable march toward her demise and her attitude when she learns of her fate.

As it turns out, Victory boasts a strong group of actors, with supporting turns from Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, George Brent, Henry Travers and a young actor you might have heard of called Ronald Reagan.

It's a hoot to watch Reagan in his role as a drunken playboy, but not because of his cartoony performance; the guy really wasn't much of an actor. No, it's just his future political significance that makes him entertaining. Bogart is mildly interesting, though he has a lot of trouble pulling off an Irish accent. He sometimes hits it in a "Lucky Charms" manner, but usually misses the mark.

While the supporting cast is good, it's star Bette Davis who really makes this movie watchable. Sometimes it can be difficult to accept the acting in older films because it tends to be more theatrical than what we find in newer offerings.

As such, Davis' frighteningly manic performance initially put me off intensely. She attacks this part with gusto; I've seen hummingbirds with less energy than Davis shows here. She reads lines at a rate approaching that of the guys who provide the "fine print" details on radio ads.

Somehow, all of it ultimately works. Even when I found her to be obnoxious, I recognized that I couldn't take my eyes off of her, as she made for an incredibly compelling screen presence.

Davis gets to play the gamut of emotions here, from spoiled child to happy woman in love to bitter fatalist. She pulls off the "bitch goddess" scenes much more effectively than the ones in which she's supposed to be chipper and bright. Somehow, that attitude just doesn't suit her, and her "I'm going to make the most of every day!!!" scenes seem less than convincing, though they remain provocative because of her wildly manic zest. She puts incredible bite into lines when she's her nastier self, though, that make all the rest of it worth watching. It's an unusual performance by today's standards, but it's a killer nonetheless.

Davis remains the only thing that distinguishes Dark Victory. The storyline tells a fairly saccharine and melodramatic tale of a woman with a terminal illness and her courageous battle. I suppose it's possible that plot wasn't tired in 1939, but I doubt it. Nothing else about the execution of the film stands out in any way. Davis' performance is the lone aspect of this movie that makes it memorable.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Dark Victory appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though I’ve seen more appealing presentations for old movies, this was still a pretty nice transfer.

Sharpness usually appeared very good. The film only suffered from a few slightly ill-defined shots, as the majority of the flick demonstrated nice delineation. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie lacked edge haloes.

In terms of print flaws, Victory looked clean. It showed natural grain and failed to display any specks, marks or other issues. Blacks appeared deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated nice definition and clarity. This ended up as a pleasing image.

Although the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Dark Victory didn’t demonstrate anything special, it worked fine for its era and genre. Speech seemed slightly thin but was good for its age; lines remained intelligible and clear.

Music demonstrated reasonable range. The music didn’t impress, but it appeared acceptably bright. Effects became a minor component in this chatty flick, and they came across as reasonably accurate; though they had little heft, they were clean and didn’t suffer from distortion or other concerns. The audio appeared pretty good for its era.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the remastered DVD from 2005? Audio seemed clearer and fuller, while visuals were cleaner and tighter. The 2005 DVD was a nice release, but the Blu-ray improved on it.

The Blu-ray includes the 2005 DVD’s extras and some additional materials. In addition to the film’s trailer, we find an audio commentary from film historian James Ursini and CNN film critic Paul Clinton. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track. Usually film historians offer biographies of the participants and production notes about the film in question. While Ursini and Clinton offer a little of that, their discussion usually strays from concrete information.

Instead, they semi-critique the flick much of the time. By “semi-critique”, I mean that they occasionally discuss the flick’s good and bad points, and they provide some interpretation of characters and story issues. For example, they consistently deride Bogart’s casting as inappropriate, and they harp on some of the movie’s unrealistic elements.

Unfortunately, we don’t get much more than that. Periodic tidbits about the participants and the shoot appear, and we hear a couple neat stories like Clinton’s encounter with an elderly Bette Davis. Much of the time, however, the pair do little more than narrate the movie, and a fair amount of dead air slows down the discussion. This never becomes a painful experience, but it lacks much depth.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1939. This feature includes a preview for The Roaring Twenties (3:31) - a flick from the same era as Victory - plus a period newsreel (2:05), a “Merrie Melodies” cartoon called Robinhood Makes Good (7:47) and a short Andrew Jackson bio-pic entitled Old Hickory (16:50).

These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Victory, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever. Use the “Play All” option to run each of these features and then automatically launch into Victory.

Next we get a featurette called 1939: Tough Competition for Dark Victory. This nine-minute and 33-second program includes remarks from Clinton, Ursini, film critic John Anderson, and author and film historian Rudy Behlmer. They discuss the stellar roster of flicks that came out in 1939 and Victory’s place in that spectrum.

They also chat about its prominence at the time, Davis’ performance and career, tidbits about the other actors, cinematography and score, and its legacy among the other 1939 classics. Some material repeats from the commentary, but this proves to be a decent overview of the Victory.

For an audio experience, we get a Lux Radio Theater Broadcast version of Dark Victory. From January 8, 1940, this show runs 59 minutes, 12 seconds and features Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy as the leads. That’s a step up from George Brent and a pleasant surprise; usually these radio shows offer replacement actors who’re less talented/famous than the originals from the movies.

As for the adaptation, it rushes through the tale to a degree, but it enjoys enough air time to cover the tale pretty well. Davis lacks quite the same manic zest from the film, though she still chews a lot of scenery. This is a fairly fun listen.

A weepy, maudlin “chick flick”, Dark Victory offers little to make it stand out from the crowd. However, an exceptional - if occasionally off-putting - performance from Bette Davis makes it more interesting than most movies in the genre. The Blu-ray offers nice picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. I don’t think Victory gives us a great film, but it’s an intriguing piece that fares well on this Blu-ray.

Note that Dark Victory can be purchased on its own or as part of a five-film “Golden Year Collection”. This also includes Gone with the Wind, Ninotchka, Dodge City and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It retails for $69.96, so it’s a good deal if you want all five of the movies.

To rate this film visit the prior review of DARK VICTORY

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main