Filmsite Movie Review
Dark Victory (1939)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Following the operating room surgery, Dr. Parsons is notified by Dr. Driscoll (Leonard Mudie) and Dr. Steele of the pathological findings - there's "no hope." The operation is actually a failure because the malignant tumor is inoperable, and Judith has less than one year remaining of life. There will be no pain - the final warning will be a loss of vision shortly before she dies peacefully:

Dr. Driscoll: She's bound to get a recurrence.
Dr. Parsons: And that means...?
Dr. Driscoll: Oh, about ten months.
Dr. Parsons: Invalidism, I suppose.
Dr. Driscoll: No, I think it's a rare case. She'll apparently be as well as any of us - that is until - well, her sight may fail her near the end.
Dr. Parsons: Amblyopia?
Dr. Driscoll: Yes. It'll only be a few hours after that.
Dr. Parsons: And I brought her into the world. Hang it all, Steele, don't stand there saying nothing!
Dr. Steele: It's a rotten business, doctoring...Glioma...A girl like that - so alive and so entitled to live - and this thing, this growth comes along and puts a period to it. Makes you almost wish it happened on the table.

But Dr. Steele elects to keep the information from her and to hide the truth, in order to allow her a few final months of happiness. While Judith is recuperating in her hospital room, he tells Ann that the operation was successful: "She'll be all right...A few weeks' convalescence...I think I can promise a complete surgical recovery." In a close-up, the hospital discharge papers are signed by Dr. Steele:

Patient's condition. Complete surgical recovery. To be discharged today.

The discharge report blurs into the background. Above it, he opens a monogrammed (JT) invitation to a cocktail party from his "grateful patient":

Thursday Morning:
Oh Doctor!
I may be discharged but you're not rid of me yet. I expect you tomorrow for cocktails and general rejoicing.
Your grateful patient in room 426

After Judith dresses for her cocktail party the next day, she boasts and shows off to Alec - who has already begun drinking and sits on a sofa outside her bedroom:

Judith: Behold, a new woman from top to toe...New shoes, new stockings, new dress, new head.
Alec: ...and a new disposition...
Judith: ...What's wrong with my old disposition?
Alec: Never mind, darling, I've always loved you despite your faults.

Ann suspects and senses that Judith has become enamoured of her doctor: "It used to be six dresses on the floor, now it's twelve. You used to be mad, but what that doctor's done for your madness." Restraining herself and not appearing to be too anxious, Judith describes her company to her newly-arrived guest of honor Dr. Steele. She is less self-centered - she gratefully thanks him for the gift of life and elatedly demonstrates how she has been totally cured:

That's my gang. They're here every day....Thank you again for everything, for my horse, my first day, my drink...Oh, thanks for the two inches off my middle. And thank you for my life. What can I do for you?...Well, I've been a good girl until today. I've practically been your slave. And I am well, look! Reflexes terrific. Balance perfect. And I can walk a straight line. I can even walk backwards.

In private, Ann confronts Dr. Steele with a premonition that Judith's operation wasn't as successful as reported: "When you came down to Judith's room right after the operation, you had a certain look on your face...I saw that look on your face just now. I'm Irish - I may be psychic and funny. I'm probably quite wrong. Is there something? Something about Judith that you're holding back? If there is, please, I am her best friend." Outside on the veranda, Dr. Steele confides in Ann the tragic truth about Judith's condition - her brain growth will recur within a year and prove fatal:

I can't save her, nothing can, nothing...She's going to die...She's not going to suffer anymore. That's all behind her now...She will seem well and normal like everybody else.

Mercifully, death will come "quietly, peacefully."

Ann: God's last small mercy. Would she have no warning, no chance to be ready?
Dr. Steele: There may be a moment towards the end when, when her sight may not be quite as good as usual, a dimming of vision. Then, a few hours - perhaps three or four...
Ann: How long has she got? A year? Six months? Four?
Dr. Steele: Possibly more.
Ann: Oh, I don't believe it.
Dr. Steele: Ann, she must never know.
Ann: No, no.
Judith: (appearing from behind) BOO!

On "the best day of my life," Judith hands Dr. Steele a small package, containing: "a little gold and a lot of sentiment from a grateful patient." Since Dr. Steele's hands are unsteady, Ann assists in opening the package with a pair of gold cuff links inside. "Of course, it isn't enough, really," Judith admits. She proposes making the day her "new birthday" - "Let's all three of us each year get together and celebrate, shall we?...Let's have some champagne right now and start!"

Ann labors over a pile of bills with a worried look on her face, burying her weighty concerns and anguish over Judith's inevitable death in her work, while she grows more and more in love with the doctor who saved her life. Ann's best friend feels that her life is less empty, more vibrant and full of depth:

Ann: You're in love...
Judith: Yes!
Ann: I thought so. What about him? Has he given you any encouragement?
Judith: Not a ripple on the water. He drives me crazy but when I just think of him, I- and when I think if I hadn't fallen off that horse - it was awful, but it was wonderful. Life is a different thing. For the first time I wake up in the morning with something to live for - something besides horses and hats and food. He's very fine, isn't he? Very worthwhile, isn't he? Oh, but if only the Spaniards or the French had settled New England instead of the Pilgrims..
Ann: Yes, but if he hasn't given you any signs, how do you know?
Judith: Well, that's it. I don't know. But he didn't go away. That's one sign, Mr. Watson. It must mean something. Don't be against me.
Ann: I'm not against you.
Judith: Good. Ann, will you do something for me?
Ann: Of course.
Judith: Well, I was just thinking - you might take advantage of any lull in the conversation tomorrow - just to mention what a good wife Judith would be - what an ideal wife. Well, don't you think I would be?
Ann: Oh, the best.
Judith: Well, keep both fingers crossed for me. Ann, one day it'll happen to you. Then you'll know how wonderful it is.

Moved by Judith's life transformation, Ann schedules an immediate appointment with Dr. Steele to discuss her terminally-ill friend's hopeless love:

Ann: Does Judith mean anything more to you than just a patient? Perhaps it was impertinent of me to ask you that?
Dr. Steele: No, it isn't.
Ann: I think I know. I think you do care for her.
Dr. Steele: Yes, Ann. I do care - so much.
Ann: What are you going to do? Are you going to go out there this weekend and tell her and hold her in your arms? Are you? Or are you going to go away and leave her to us? Which is better? I haven't slept for two nights...This morning, I saw it coming. And just now, a little while ago, I asked her to her face - 'Do you love him?' And she answered, 'Yes, I do.' It's up to you.
Dr. Steele: She said that?! You know, Ann, before women have never meant anything to me. I'd never met anyone like her. I was all set - I had plans, made arrangements...
Ann: I know - Vermont. Why don't you go away - for your own sake and the sake of your work?
Dr. Steele: Work! Why work when I can't cure her? There's nothing else on my mind but to sit here. I can't think of anything else. Oh, Ann, I'd give my own body if I thought it would do any good.
Ann: Isn't there anything - anything? What's she ever done that this should happen to her? She's never harmed a soul. She's never done anything to anyone except kindness.

After conceding that he also has fallen in love with Judith, Dr. Steele is downtrodden by confirmation of Judith's fatal diagnosis with a letter he recently received from Dr. Heinzig - a famous specialist in Vienna: "Not a chance in the world!...Prognosis negative." Ann pities the doctor and consoles his own feelings of hopelessness as Judith's disease creeps up inexorably. They agree that Judith's happiness must be foremost:

Ann: Oh, I'm so sorry for you both. You couldn't marry her. Do you know what she'd expect of marriage? A home, children, plans for the future. You couldn't do that to her.
Dr. Steele: The great thing, Ann, is for her never to know.
Ann: Could you stand watching her growing happier every day - with this thing creeping up behind her? Could you stand that? I couldn't.
Dr. Steele: It isn't a question of what you or I could stand. The main thing is for her to be happy - every hour. Ann, all my life, I've been able to tell people what to do. Now...

A phone call from Judith invites Dr. Steele for a drink and interrupts their secret appointment. When Ann quickly returns home, Judith needlessly suspects that her friend has been having an affair behind her back with Dr. Steele - to protect her romantic interest, she straightforwardly informs the 'love-blind' doctor about her love when he arrives. He reciprocates and admits his own love, somewhat out of pity, and she beams with great happiness over his shoulder:

Judith: We were on the verge of a jealous scene about you.
Dr. Steele: What?
Judith: Darling, you poor fool, don't you know I'm in love with you. (Embarrassed by her forthright admission.) Would you like some tea or a drink?
Dr. Steele: Tea, thank you.
Judith: ...Sorry.
Dr. Steele: You couldn't have said anything I wanted to hear more. Judy, dear, I love you so much. (They embrace.)

In a memorable scene set within Dr. Steele's home/office, where Miss Wainwright is absorbed in managing the doctor's packing for Vermont, Judith arrives. She is due to meet her fiancee for lunch at a restaurant: "Now you're still packing and my life is just beginning...I darn near broke my neck to get that doctor of yours. I'm mad about him. Of course, it's the screwiest set-up. Vermont and Long Island. We live in different worlds. I wonder if Vermont and I will understand each other. What do you think?...He loves it, doesn't he?...Well then, I will too. You know Wainwright, I'm going to sell my house and my apartment and my horses - all except Challenger. I'll keep him. He's a champion." She sits down at his desk as she admires a framed certificate of Steele's membership in the College of Surgeons: "I'm glad he's going to give up cutting people open. He's one of the great scientists. And I'll be 'Mrs. Pasteur.' We'll be such useful people in the world...I'll tend his house and mind his books and answer his mail and..."

She is startled when she notices her case history medical file on the desk. Naturally curious, she opens it and finds a typewritten translation of Dr. Karl Heinzig's diagnosis:

My Dear Doctor Steele:
A study of the case history of Miss Judith Traherne leads me to concur with your diagnosis.
A recurrence is certain. Definitely: Prognosis negative.
Sincerely yours,
Karl Heinzig, M.D.

The words PROGNOSIS NEGATIVE expand and move to the forefront, blurring the rest of the letter in the background. There are further signed letters from other doctors, each one confirming from their own tests of her case that the prognosis is negative and mentioning that "death is inevitable." Uncomprehending, but fearing the worst, Judith asks Miss Wainwright about the meaning of the technical term (and simultaneously provides a definition for the average moviegoer):

Judy: Wainwright?...What does prognosis mean?
Miss Wainwright: It means what the future of a case looks like.
Judy: What does negative mean?
Miss Wainwright: That's not so good. It means hopeless.

Overwhelmed, she gasps and runs from the doctor's consulting room.

In a fancy New York restaurant, the camera pans across a group of luncheon guests and live musicians playing a Strauss waltz, locating Judith alone at a round table for four - she has had several cocktails and has ordered another one. She asks for the flowers to be removed from the center of the table. Feeling deceived, she is curt and bitter toward Dr. Steele and Ann when they arrive late: "We're playing games, hide-and-seek. You can play too - puss-in-the-corner." She mocks them and accuses them of being liars: "Would you like me to leave? You two dear friends must have so much to talk over. My dearest friends." She drowns her rage in drinks: "They're fine, they deaden the brain. You know about brains. They loosen the inhibitions and make the tongue waggle." With sarcastic irony, she confronts them: "You should know how well I am. (To the doctor) Am I well? Ssh, it's a secret! Or don't you two know about secrets?" And then she asks directly, lashing out with reproach toward her doctor for concealing the truth: "Will I be a specimen case? Will I be in the medical journal?" Scornful, she lets the Doctor know that she has seen his negative medical report on her when she orders her lunch. And she belligerently rejects the doctor's care and affection and concludes that he deceived her and only wanted to marry her out of self-pity:

Dr. Steele: Would you mind telling me what this is all about?
Judith: Why don't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me? (She takes the menu from the waiter.) Well, I think I'll have a large order of 'prognosis negative'.
Ann: What do you mean?
Judith: You know, oeufs sur le plat, prognosis negative! Do you know what prognosis negative means, Doctor? Explain to her, or have you? It means a few months of pretending you're well, then blindness, then...
Ann: Wait Judith, we can't talk in here.
Judith: Oh yes we can. It was a question of humoring the patient, wasn't it? Give the poor dear everything she wants. Time is so short. Marry her if necessary. I know now why you went to his office that day - to beg him to marry me out of pity. You're kind, Dr. Steele. You're both so kind. So long, my friends.
Dr. Steele: (He catches her arm as she storms off.) Judith - you're wrong.

A right to left wipe transitions into a nightclub setting, where a showroom orchestra backs up a female singer - she is finishing crooning a poignant tune about time - exactly the subject of Judith's plight: "Oh! Give Me Time for Tenderness."

...Let my heart be still and listen to one song of love,
Let me feel the thrill of quiet we know nothing of.
Oh! Give me time for tenderness
To hold your hand - and understand
Oh! Give me time.

In drunken despair and self-destructive desperation, Judith embarks on a wild whirlwind of parties. She is seated at the bar at two AM, tipsy and boozing it up with her effete male friend/playboy Alec, and speaking about time:

Time, Alec. Did you ever think about time? It goes, Alec. That's the business of time. Tick. Tick. Tick. You can almost hear it go by. Before you know it, it's gone. Then where are we, my friend?

She requests another rendition of the song about time (with a bribe of fifty dollars), rejecting an excuse about it being late, quitting time and bedtime:

Oh, mustn't go to bed. Mustn't sleep. It's a waste. Time doesn't sleep.

She accompanies the lounge singer in the refrain during another run-through of the song. Her eyes bulge out with fear and terror:

I will never ask for more than you can give,
Yet when you say, 'Be gay today and live,'
My heart answers cautiously, 'Today will soon be gone,'
Why rush to meet our destiny?
Why must we hurry on?
Oh! Give me time for tenderness,
One little hour from each big day,
Oh! Give me time - to stop and bless
The golden sunset of a summer day
Let my heart be still and listen to one song of love,
Let me feel the thrill of quiet we know nothing of.
Oh! Give me time for tenderness
To hold your hand - and understand
Oh! Give me time.

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