The Bette Davis vehicle and 1939 Best Picture nominee Dark Victory will be screened as the next feature in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ series “Hollywood’s Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939” on Monday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
Beginning at 7 p.m., the feature will be preceded by the fifth chapter of the 1939 serial Buck Rogers, starring Buster Crabbe and Constance Moore, and the Warner Bros. cartoon Dangerous Dan McFoo, directed by Tex Avery.
Adapted by Casey Robinson from a play by George Emerson Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch, Dark Victory is one of Bette Davis’ numerous tearjerkers of the period – That Certain Woman, The Old Maid, Now, Voyager being a few of the others. It is also quite possibly the actress’ best-remembered film of the 1930s. Personally, I much prefer The Old Maid made that same year, by the same director, Edmund Goulding; with the same leading man, George Brent; and at the same studio, Warner Bros. But as usual, I’m probably in the minority here.
In Dark Victory, Bette Davis (in a role originated by Tallulah Bankhead) gets to suffer both nobly and chic-ly. See, she’s a spoiled, rich brat; one who happens to have both a curious taste in hats and a fatal brain tumor. And that’s when she, we, everybody discover that spoiled she may be, but she’s also tough. She’ll go down, we know, but she’ll go down fighting. Both nobly and glamorously clad. What else could anyone have expected from Warner Bros.’ top female star, one who by that time had already bagged two Academy Awards (for Dangerous in 1935 and for Jezebel in 1938)?
Helping Davis meet her tragically empowering (empoweringly tragic?) fate are Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart (above), Ronald Reagan, former silent-screen leading man Herbert Rawlinson, and, more importantly, cinematographer Ernest Haller. And of course, Max Steiner, whose music accompanies the resilient heroine on her journey all to the way the end. And what an ending.
Now, I must admit that when the skies get “cloudy” (you have to watch the movie to get this) the mixture of Steiner’s score and Davis’ poise never fails to crack me up. I know I should’ve been sobbing, but that’s how it goes. That said, in no way does my heartlessness (or the unintended humor) detracts from the memorability of that grandiose finale.
In fact, if you haven’t watched Dark Victory, you don’t know what melodrama is.
Dark Victory received three Academy Award nominations: Best Picture (Warner Bros.-First National), Actress (Davis) and Music - Original Score (Steiner). Some at the time were betting that Davis would win her third Oscar, but Vivien Leigh came out victorious on Oscar night for her performance in Gone with the Wind.
Tickets for Dark Victory and other individual films in the series are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, depending on availability, on the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 247-3600.