Dark Victory

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Dark Victory Movie Poster Image
Bette Davis loses her sight, and we gain a classic.
  • NR
  • 1939
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Violence

Sad death.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character abuses alcohol; drinking and smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that a main character is dealing with a deadly cancer and her friends lie to her about her prognosis. She turns to partying and fast-living to hide from her problems.

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What's the story?

In DARK VICTORY, Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is an impetuous and headstrong heiress who lives life with furious energy. Her life revolves around parties and horses. She sees Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) for her headaches and dizzy spells, and he tells her she has a brain tumor. He operates, and she believes she is cured. Her soul is cured as well, because she and the doctor have fallen in love, and for the first time she feels genuine happiness and peace. She learns that Frederick and her friends have kept the truth from her; her prognosis is negative, and she has very little time left.

Is it any good?

This classic melodrama is also almost an encyclopedia of emotions. At first, Judith is in denial about her illness and about her feelings. She shows displaced anger when she breaks her engagement to Frederick. Most important to discuss with kids, though, is that she makes a classic mistake of confusing pleasure and happiness. The contrast between her frantic efforts to find distraction through parties ("horses, hats, and food") and fast living, and the peace and joy of her time in Vermont with love and meaningful work (okay, it's her husband's meaningful work, but this was the 1930s) is exceptionally well portrayed by Davis and by director Goulding. This is one of the most important emotional distinctions for kids to learn, especially teenagers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about questions like these: Why is it so hard for Judith to find happiness, even before she learns she is sick? How can you tell that she does not understand herself very well? Why does she break her engagement with Frederick? What does Michael tell her that makes her change her mind? Why doesn't she tell Frederick that she is close to the end, sending him away instead?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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