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Parents' Guide to

Dark Victory

By Nell Minow, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 11+

Classic Bette Davis film handles terminal illness unevenly.

Movie NR 1939 104 minutes
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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.

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