Sunday, August 05, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Shining Victory (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SHINING VICTORY is a somewhat unusual but interesting medical melodrama. It was released on DVD this spring by the Warner Archive.

James Stephenson plays Dr. Paul Venner, who is forcibly ejected from Hungary after he complains about a prominent doctor (Sig Ruman) stealing his research.

Venner, who has been testing drugs to treat dementia, starts over again researching in a lab at a sanitarium in rainy Scotland. Initially annoyed when he's assigned an idealistic young new doctor, Mary Murray (Geraldine Fitzgerald), as an assistant, he gradually comes to appreciate her, though the gruff doctor is reluctant at first to admit it.

Paul and Mary fall in love, but an unexpected catastrophe changes everything.

This was something of an oddball film, mixing medical research and sensitive romance with the gothic overtones of REBECCA (1940). Barbara O'Neil's mentally disturbed sanitarium secretary whispers into Mary's ear in one scene, looking for all the world as though she's evil Mrs. Danvers with the Second Mrs. DeWinter. Though there are hints of O'Neil's character's issues from early on, at this point one begins to sense that the movie may not end up quite as we expect.

O'Neil's best-known work, incidentally, included Ellen O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and the Duchesse de Praslin in ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO (1940).

Stephenson plays an embittered character who is nonetheless quite interesting, with varied shadings which let us see the hurt, dedicated romantic underneath the cold fish exterior. He's highly watchable in a role which in other hands could have come off as a completely insufferable jerk.

Stephenson had played Bette Davis's lawyer the year previously in THE LETTER (1940) and his film career, which had begun in 1937, was seemingly starting to take off for new heights when he tragically died of a heart attack the month after SHINING VICTORY was released. He was just 52. An additional film, INTERNATIONAL SQUADRON (1941), in which he was third-billed, was released the month after his passing.

Costar Geraldine Fitzgerald was also especially well-known for her supporting role in a Bette Davis film, playing her close friend in DARK VICTORY (1939). I have always found Fitzgerald an appealing actress, and that's the case in this film, where she puts up with sexism and rudeness with determined good cheer, unwilling to let anyone stand in the way of her goal, serving as a medical missionary in China.

A half dozen years ago I saw Fitzgerald's son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, speak at a screening at the Egyptian Theater, where he also signed copies of his book LUCK AND CIRCUMSTANCE: A COMING OF AGE IN HOLLYWOOD, NEW YORK, AND POINTS BEYOND. It's an interesting read.

Donald Crisp is especially good in this as a doctor who serves as confidante to both Paul and Mary. The cast also includes Montagu Love, G.P. Huntley, Richard Ainley, Bruce Foster, Ian Wolfe, and Doris Lloyd.

SHINING VICTORY was the first feature film directed by Irving Rapper, who had previously worked as a dialogue director for a number of years. The movie was filmed by James Wong Howe, with a score by Max Steiner. The running time is 80 minutes.

The Warner Archive disc is a very nice print with good sound. The disc includes the trailer.

SHINING VICTORY isn't a classic, but it's a highly watchable film with a number of interesting elements. I'm appreciative that this type of lesser-known film is now available to viewers thanks to the Warner Archive.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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