Wealthy socialite Judith "Judy" Traherne (Bette Davis), who spends her days shopping, playing bridge, having cocktails, and riding her horse, has been having headaches for several months. Pushing aside the concern of her friend Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Judith refuses to see a doctor and intends to go about life as usual.
However, after an episode in which she is thrown from her horse and another in which she collapses on the stairs, her loved ones take her to the family doctor (Henry Travers). Wanting the input of a specialist, Dr. Parsons contacts brain surgeon Frederick Steele (George Brent).
In the process of giving up his practice to focus on research instead, Dr. Steele is reluctant to take on Judith's case. However, after meeting her and noticing some things which alarm him, he changes his mind. Although Judy insists there is nothing wrong with her, Dr. Steele, believing otherwise, schedules her for some tests, which confirm that there is a tumor on her brain. Surgery is Judy's only option, and Dr. Steele undertakes the operation with high hopes; however, his hopes are short-lived, for he realizes that Judith's tumor is the kind which will grow back. Although the doctor seeks several opinions, they all come back with the same grim prognosis and the expectation that Judy will die within ten months. Not wanting Judith to know of her imminent death, Dr. Steele keeps the news to himself.
Not long afterwards, Judith and Dr. Steele realize they are in love with one another and plan to be married. Although he knows he will ultimately lose her, the doctor loves Judith and wants her to be happy for what time she has left.
Before they can marry, though, Judy discovers her medical file on the doctor's desk, and she is furious at his deception. Bitter, and believing he is only marrying her out of pity, she breaks off the engagement and seeks to find solace in drink.
Will Judith find the peace she so desperately needs? Will she forgive the doctor for keeping the truth from her? Will they get married after all? Those are the questions which play out in this incredibly gorgeous film.
Dark Victory is a very touching and tender movie...and it is definitely a tearjerker. Bette, who received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her work here, does her usual brilliant job. She is positively wonderful!! The life and grace she brings to the character of Judy Traherne has made Judy one of my favorite film characters. Truly, Judy's transformation is beautiful and moving. The only negative I have is that Judith is supposed to be 23 years old; Bette was 31 at the time, so you just have to "blow off" the fact that she doesn't look like a 23 year old. The age factor wasn't at all essential to the story, so I'm not sure why they felt it was necessary to say she was 23. The very dashing George Brent, whom I really like but whom I do not consider an exceptional actor, gives what I think is one of his best performances; he and Bette have great chemistry together here...though since they made eleven films together, that's not a surprise.
It was fun seeing Humphrey Bogart before his star had begun to rise, though as a stable hand, he was definitely not in the kind of role with which he is generally associated.
Out on DVD, Dark Victory should be very easy to track down. Additionally, it's on the TCM schedule for this Sunday, March 4th (10:00 a.m. ET). Definitely be sure to see this gorgeous film---and have the tissue box handy when you do!