Dark Victory – 1939

dark victory

My Review

—Pretty Good— 

Bogie Film Fix:

Full Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Edmund Goulding

The Lowdown

A rich, young socialite (Bette Davis) and the doctor (George Brent) that diagnoses her brain tumor fall in love and struggle with the knowledge that she only has a few months left to live.

What I Thought

While I always wish that this film had a lot more Humphrey Bogart, I keep falling more and more in love with Bette Davis, so I’ll forgive director Edmund Goulding for not slipping more Bogie into the movie.

Davis, who is almost always bubbly and energetic, even in her darker roles, begins this film downright frenetic.  She’s a self-absorbed party girl who spends her nights drinking with other wealthy, young, beautiful people, and her days scolding her Irish horse trainer (Humphrey Bogart).

What’s so good about Davis’ portrayal of Judith Traherne is that she’s able to slowly tone down her wild, selfish persona – bit by bit – throughout the movie until she’s almost subdued and grounded by the end of the film.  I say almost, because a complete transformation would have been too easy for the audience.  Goulding and Davis hold back the reins on Judith’s character development just enough that there’s still a little bit of that reckless, egotistical rich girl from the beginning of the film still fighting to get out at the end.

We watch, frustrated and disappointed, as Davis sends everyone good in her life away.  Why does she choose to face the end alone?  Why send her husband away?  Why her best friend?  Even the dogs?  She can’t even keep the dogs by her side?  Is she really helping the them, or is she too afraid to face their pain alongside her own?

To have ended with a crowd of loved ones surrounding Davis’ bed would have certainly been the easy way out for this film.  To let Judith face death unaccompanied stays true to her character, while at the same time piling enormous amounts of emotional weight onto the viewer.  This film leaves me struggling with sympathy and disappointment intertwined together, and I’m left unsatisfied in the best possible way.

According to A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax’s Bogart biography, Bogart, a happy ending was filmed for the movie wherein Bogart’s Michael O’Leary wins a race with Davis’ favorite thoroughbred.  The ending was deemed unnecessary though, as it didn’t flow well following the final death scene.  I’m impressed that they didn’t hedge their bets and go with the “safe” ending!

Bette Davis was deservedly nominated for her third Academy Award for this role.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart definitely makes the most of what little time he has in this film.  There’s a short scene at the beginning where he plays the charming rogue, teasing Davis about the worth of her favorite horse, and then a longer, more dramatic scene about three quarters of the way through the movie where he gets to have a wonderful moment in the horse barn with Davis as he learns about her imminent death.

Playing  a man named O’Leary, we’re “treated” to one of only two films that I can think of (the other being Virginia City) where Bogart puts on an accent.  Is it good?  Not really, but he wisely keeps it pretty well subdued throughout the picture so that it never becomes distracting.

What I found the most interesting was the turn that Bogart’s character takes when he finds out about Davis’ prognosis.  In the barn together, we can almost watch him slip from the wisecracking horse trainer into the familiar demeanor and tone of one of his bitter, world-weary, expatriate roles like Harry Morgan or Rick Blaine as he delivers one of the most powerful moments in the film:

Bogart:  I should have lived in the days when it counted to be a man – the way I like to ride and the way I like to fight.  What good’s ridin’ and fightin’ these days?  Whatta they get you?  What do they get ya?

The Cast

Bette Davis does admirably well considering her personal life was apparently in turmoil during the making of this movie.  I would guess that the dissolution of her marriage and the ensuing affair with costar George Brent is what makes her appear so much more passionate and agitated than usual onscreen.

I really liked George Brent as Dr. Fredrick Steele, and I need to check out the rest of his filmography to see what I’ve been missing.

Geraldine Fitzgerald does a great job counterbalancing Davis as the best friend, Ann King, and she is able to hold her own against the several other, higher profile, acting greats.

One of my favorite parts of this film is Ronald Reagan’s portrayal of Alec, Judith’s drunk, young, gad about friend.  Of all his early roles, this one always strikes me as the most charming and entertaining.  I’m not a huge Reagan fan, but he really does a great job here.

And then there’s the angel, Clarence, as Dr. Parsons – Judith’s personal physician!  It’s always fun to see Henry Travers on screen!

Classic Bogie Moment

Michael O’Leary appears a few times in a rumpled, well-worn, trench coat and fedora – a look that Bogart would go on to make iconic with his most famous character – Rick Blaine.

Did You Notice…

I usually don’t notice how much people smoke in these old films – until they do it in places that seem ludicrous to modern sensibilities.  Bette Davis smokes in the doctor’s office . . . with the doctor!  She smokes in her hospital room moments before surgery.  Doctors smoke in the doctors’ lounge.  If they only knew, right?

The Bottom Line

It’s a very good film, but not a super satisfying Bogart fix.

Swing Your Lady – 1938 

swing

My Review

—A Weak Script, but Fun Film—

Your Bogie Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Ray Enright

The Lowdown

For all of the horrible things that I’d heard about this movie, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as its reputation.  It’s got a 4.5 user rating on IMDB and that seems unfairly harsh, but perhaps my expectations were so low that anything would’ve seemed better than the horror that I expected.

Bogart is Ed Hatch, a traveling professional wrestling promoter who’s trying to break into the big time at Madison Square Garden.  The wrestler that he’s attached himself to is a big, dumb, lummox of an ape named Joe Skopapoulus (Nat Pendleton) who’s so brainless that even the dinging of a hotel bell will send him into a wrasslin’ fit.  Pendleton plays Skopapoulus unrealistically dumb to the point that the character would be much more at home in that one pro wrestling Bugs Bunny cartoon rather than walking around in the real world.

Hatch, his girlfriend Cookie (a wonderful Penny Singleton), Skopapoulus, and Hatch’s crew (Trainers?  Marketing Men?  Cronies?) find themselves deep in the Ozarks in a little town named Plunkett when they stumble across a possible opponent for Skopapoulus that they can use to garner some attention.  Why do they think that wrestling their champ in the middle-of-nowhere will garner them attention?  I don’t know, and they really don’t seem to either.

Enter Sadie Horn (Louise Fazenda), a rough and tumble ox-like woman who works as a blacksmith and has the ability to lift Hatch’s car right out of a pothole when it gets stuck.  Hatch sees a potential intergender novelty match in the making, and starts to set up the fight.  But just when things start to fall into place, the big, dumb ape falls in love with the ox-like blacksmith – they kiss – and the fight is off.  Luckily for Hatch, there are plenty of enormous hillbilly bumpkins running around, and one of Sadie’s unrequited suitors, Noah Wulliver (Daniel Boone Savage), comes running in to defend the woman that he loves from the traveling wrestler.

So a new match is on!  Skopapoulus vs. Wulliver, and Sadie will be the prize for the winner!  Except Hatch doesn’t want to drag Sadie all over the country with his champ, so he tells Skopapoulus to take a dive.  (So why are they in this town?  To gain attention by losing?  But no one will notice because they’re in the Ozarks, right?  So why go on with the match???)  Yet, lo and behold, the powers that be in professional wrestling get wind of the fight, and offer the winner a match . . . get ready for this . . . at Madison Square Garden!  So now Hatch’s fighter needs to win!

Whew.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in plot coherency, I thought it actually made up for in charm.  Are a few of the characters a little over-caricatured?  Sure.  But every one of them was able to squeak out at least one or two laughs from me.

And don’t be fooled like I was by any of Bogie’s biographies that make it sound like he was unhappily sleepwalking through this role.  He’s Bogie, and even with so little to work with, he’s a lot of fun to watch as the slick, big city promoter who’s always thinking two steps ahead of his current scheme.

Script flaws not withstanding, this movie is far more watchable than I’d been led to believe, and if it reran on TCM, I’d probably watch it through again.  It’s harmless, family-friendly fun.  Ronald Reagan even shows up in a very small role as a reporter towards the end of the film.

The Great

Penny Singleton’s character of Cookie doesn’t have a whole lot to do or say, but when she starts singing (Oh, did I forget to mention that this movie is almost/kind of a musical?) she is so doggone wonderful and cute that I gave the rest of the movie a pass.  Turns out that Cookie is a bit of a hillbilly at heart, and she jumps right in with the locals on a few song and dance numbers.  Most will remember Singleton as Blondie Bumstead from all of those 40’s movies.  Her second song towards the end of the film is so adorably endearing, I admit that I may have developed more than a little crush on her.

The Good

Hmmmm.  I easily made it all the way through the movie even though I’d been led to believe that I wouldn’t.  That’s good, right?  The supporting cast is adequate here, mostly diving deep, deep, deep into hillbilly cliché and caricature.  That being said, I think if you go into the movie with the knowledge that it’s an over-the-top screwball comedy, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart gets to use his comedy chops here, as only he can do.  It’s great to see someone who can be so menacing, effortlessly play light as well.  One of my favorite exchanges comes when Hatch asks Sadie if she’s interested in a match:

Bogart: Do you wanna wrassle?

Sadie:  What fer?

Bogart:  For money.

Sadie:  Sure!

And she immediately lunges at a wide eyed Bogart as if he meant for it to happen with him on the spot.

There’s also a great little interrogation scene where Bogart and his crew are trying to find out what’s wrong with Skopapoulus.  Bogie slips back a bit into his gangster persona as he yells, “Now listen ya conniving baboon, I’ll give you one more chance!  I’ll make ya talk!”

The Bottom Line

If you don’t mind gags that involve chickens falling out of cars and moonshine jugs, you won’t be offended by this.  It’s fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.  If nothing else, Bogie gets to play a character that we don’t see him tackle much in the rest of his films, and I dare say that it looks like he might even be having a little fun!

Fun Fact

Penny Singleton was the voice of Jane Jetson!  Really???  I may have to go back and watch this movie sooner than later!