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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Even when times are scary, there are people who want to help. Live life to the fullest because health is fleeting and even great people get sick. On a less positive note, the movie promotes the idea that deception is OK if it spares people's feelings.
Positive Role Models
Judith is independent and lives life to its fullest but, when she learns about her terminal diagnosis, cuts off friendships and abuses alcohol. Frederick takes hard medical cases because he wants to help. Both Ann and Frederick treat Judith with kindness and forgiveness. On the flip side, they keep important medical information from her, which leads to hurt feelings and broken relationships.
Main character Judith is athletic and independent and runs her own business with best friend Ann. Both women stand up to sexism in their profession. But all main characters are White and upper-class. They make occasional off-color jokes about being a "slave" or avoiding poor "tramps." Judith has a terminal illness, occasionally experiencing spells of dizziness or vision loss. While the film focuses on her coming to terms with an unwanted prognosis, her eventual death falls into stereotype, primarily serving as a lesson for nondisabled characters to live life to the fullest.
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Violence & Scariness
The main character deals with an illness that has some scary side effects -- dizziness, vision loss -- and eventually leads to her death. A woman falls from a horse and down a flight of stairs, and two characters get in a fistfight. Discussion of the high mortality rate of brain surgery and veiled discussion of death by suicide to avoid suffering.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters flirt, embrace, and briefly kiss, referring to these actions as "making love."
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Name-calling like "nitwit" and "idiot."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adult characters socially smoke and drink. Some drink excessively when upset. Mention of a character's deceased father "drinking himself to death."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dark Victory is a black-and-white 1939 melodrama starring Bette Davis as a charismatic socialite who finds out she has terminal cancer. Her friends, though kind and supportive, lie to her about her prognosis. She turns to partying and drinking to hide from her problems. Though she's rarely shown to be tired or in pain, (spoiler alert) the film does end with her death. Expect a few mild romantic situations and frequent smoking and drinking. The film offers disability representation in Judith's deteriorating health (she loses her sight for a short time), but her death is primarily a lesson to nondisabled characters to live life to the fullest. There's virtually no racial or economic diversity. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This classic melodrama has rich and emotionally charged situations, but it portrays terminal illness inconsistently. At times, Dark Victory focuses on main character Judith's journey -- other times it uses her as a lesson for the nondisabled characters. Judith is in denial about her illness, then shows displaced anger when she breaks her engagement to Frederick. Though she's deteriorating from a terminal illness, Judith almost never appears tired or in pain, and symptoms like blindness are fleeting elements in the plot.
Instead, director Edmund Golding and Davis play up the contrast between Judith's frantic efforts to find distraction through parties ("horses, hats, and food") and drinking, and the peace and joy of her time in Vermont with love and meaningful relationships. The real standouts in the film are Judith's doctor/fiancé Frederick and best friend Ann, who treat Judith with kindness and compassion. Though the lack of racial and economic diversity in the film may make it harder to relate to today, it's fun to catch 27-year-old Ronald Regan playing minor character Alec.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.