*/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D
starring Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald
screenplay by Casey Robinson
directed by Edmund Goulding
by Walter Chaw There's been almost as much written about the life of Bette Davis as there has about her work, and I must confess that, with few exceptions, I consider her life to be far more interesting than her films. The best Davis picture from start to finish is probably The Letter--and the most honoured of her superfluity of clunkers is Edmund Goulding's really quite dreadful Dark Victory, released in the annus mirabilis of 1939. Fanatics point to La Davis's performance in this one as her most stirring, but all I see is a terminal ham pretending to have a brain tumor and cinematic blindness. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, I suppose, but then there's the vomitous condescension of the hero doctor, the woeful miscasting of Humphrey Bogart as an Irish stable hand, and the wish unfulfilled that the great Geraldine Fitzgerald, in her screen debut, would take centre stage. The picture is also horribly dated, playing today like some weird, contrived burlesque of common sense as a terminally ill patient isn't told of her condition, has to ask someone what "negative" means, and doesn't inform her husband that she has about three hours to live. It's not to say that there isn't material of interest here, just that the material of interest doesn't live organically with the narrative. Thus there exists on the one hand the possibility of appreciating the picture in an aloof way, and, on the other, a situation where respect and conventional enjoyment veers into something as ugly as camp appreciation.