Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is a young, carefree, hedonistic Long Island socialite/heiress with a passion for horses, fast cars, and too much smoking and drinking. She initially ignores severe headaches and brief episodes of dizziness and double vision, but when she uncharacteristically takes a spill while riding, and then tumbles down a flight of stairs, her secretary and best friend Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) insists she see the family doctor, who refers her to a specialist.

Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) is in the midst of closing his New York City office in preparation of a move to Brattleboro, Vermont, where he plans to devote his time to brain cell research and scientific study on their growth. He reluctantly agrees to see Judith, who is cold and openly antagonistic toward him. She shows signs of short-term memory loss, but dismisses her symptoms. Steele convinces her the ailments she is experiencing are serious and potentially life threatening, and puts his career plans on hold to tend to her.

When diagnostic tests confirm his suspicions, Judith agrees to surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. Steele discovers the tumor cannot be completely removed, and realizes she has less than a year to live. The end will be painless but swift - shortly after experiencing total blindness, Judith will pass away. In order to allow her a few more months of happiness, Steele opts to keep the diagnosis a secret and assures Judith and Ann the surgery was a success. Ann is suspicious and confronts Steele, who admits the truth. She agrees to remain silent.

Judith and Steele become involved romantically and eventually engaged. While helping his assistant pack the office prior to their departure for Vermont, Judith discovers her case history file containing letters from several doctors, all of them confirming Steele's prognosis. Assuming Steele was marrying her out of pity, Judith breaks off the engagement and reverts to her former lifestyle.

One day, her stable hand Michael O'Leary (Humphrey Bogart), who for years has loved her from afar, confronts her about her unruly behavior and she confesses she is dying. Their conversation convinces her she should spend her final months happy, dignified, and with the man she loves. She apologizes to Steele, and the two marry and move to Vermont.

Three months later, Ann comes to visit. She and Judith are in the garden planting bulbs when Judith comments on how odd it is she still feels the heat of the sun under the rapidly darkening skies. She realizes she actually is losing her vision and approaching the end. Steele is scheduled to present his most recent medical findings (which hold out the long-term prospect of a cure for this type of cancer) in New York, and Judith, making an excuse to remain home, helps him pack and sends him off. Then, after bidding Ann, her housekeeper Martha (Virginia Brissac), and her dogs’ farewell, she climbs the stairs, lies down on her bed. In the end, death comes to Judith and she faces it with courage and dignity, thus winning a victory over the forces of darkness.
Oscar
3 Nominations
0 Awards

Golden Globes
0 Nominations
0 Awards
“Dark Victory”, the screenplay was by Casey Robinson and was based on the brief and unsuccessful 1934 Broadway play starring Tallulah Bankhead by George Emerson Brewer, Jr., and Bertram Bloch. It ran for only 51 performances and flopped miserably. David O. Selznick had originally purchased the film rights, but gave up production plans for the property and Warner Bros. picked up the film rights.

Fresh from her Oscar for “Jezebel”, in what some call her best-remembered film, Bette Davis gives a superb performance as Judith Traherne, the dying wealthy Long Island playgirl where she taps into a wide range of emotions. Davis is magnificent throughout; her Judy is wild, spoiled and cheeky in the beginning and her amazing metamorphosis to a vibrantly happy and humbled young married woman is fascinating to observe on film. Legendary columnist Hedda Hopper claimed Davis always gave her best performances when she was in love and here it was obvious as she was seeing George Brent at the time. The famous planting scene at the end of the movie had to be re-shot many times; Davis felt such empathy for her character that she would be reduced to tears.

In his review in the New York Times, Frank S. Nugent observed:

"A completely cynical appraisal would dismiss it all as emotional flim-flam, a heartless play upon tender hearts by a playwright and company well versed in the dramatic uses of going blind and improvising on Camille. But it is impossible to be that cynical about it. The mood is too poignant, the performances too honest, the craftsmanship too expert. Miss Davis, naturally, has dominated — and quite properly — her film, but Miss Fitzgerald has added a sentient and touching portrayal of the friend, and George Brent, as the surgeon, is — dare we say? — surprisingly self-contained and mature. This once we must run the risk of being called a softy: we won't dismiss Dark Victory with a self-defensive sneer."

Geraldine Fitzgerald is superb as Judith's friend and secretary, Ann King, a character written especially for the movie. Humphrey Bogart plays Michael O'Leary, an Irish horse trainer and Ronald Reagan (in a role he reportedly despised) plays the weak and drunken Alex, one of Davis's friends.

George Brent gives one of his finest performances as Dr. Frederick Steele. “Dark Victory” was the eighth on-screen teaming of Bette Davis and George Brent. Davis had recently ended affairs with William Wyler and Howard Hughes and her husband Ham Nelson had filed for divorce, and after the first few days of filming she begged to be released from her contract, claiming she was too sick to continue. Producer Hal Wallis responded, "I've seen the rushes - stay sick!" She found comfort with Brent, who had just divorced Ruth Chatterton, and the two embarked on an affair that continued throughout filming and for a year after.

“Dark Victory” was nominated for three Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Original Score by Max Steiner, but lost in all categories. “Gone with the Wind” took the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actress for Vivien Leigh. “Dark Victory” was the second of Davis' four films with director Edmund Goulding - the others were “That Certain Woman”, “The Old Maid” and “The Great Lie”.

The film was remade as “Stolen Hours” in 1963 with Susan Hayward, Michael Craig and Diane Baker and also as “Dark Victory”, a made-for-TV movie in 1976 with Elizabeth Montgomery, Anthony Hopkins and Michelle Lee.