To kick off November with the second installment of “Random Movies Month” for Monty and Desiree’s website, I thought I would review one of my absolute favorite movies of all time “Dark Victory” featuring the iconic Bette Davis in her greatest and inimitable performance of her career.

dark victory

Bette Davis is always eminent in everything she does, but when you put her in the role as Judith Traherne, she is captivating. Bette absolutely shines in this great classic about a young society girl conflicted with a terminal illness. Judith Traherne ( Bette Davis ) is a young voluptuous Long Island socialite who has a passion for horses and parties. Judith suffers from severe headaches, double vision and dizziness, but totally dismisses the fact that she maybe ill. When she has a lapse and falls off a horse and later plummets down a flight of stairs, her friend Ann ( Geraldine Fitzgerald ) is alarmed and insists that she see a doctor, who refers her to a specialist Dr. Frederick Steele ( George Brent ). At first Dr. Steele is reluctant to consult with Judith as he’s amid closing his New York office to relocate to Vermont where he plans to conduct brain cell research. However he decides to meet with Judith, who is initially uncouth and contentious towards him. Upon meeting with her, Dr. Steele realizes that Judith is gravely ill. Worried he puts his career plans in abeyance so he can commit his time to Judy’s desideratum’s. After some disputation, it is determined that Judith needs to undergo an operation. Following the surgery it is learnt that Judith is irremediable and she is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Dr. Steele insists that Judy remains happy, and does not want her to know that her death is imminent, so he decides to keep it a secret from Judith and Ann, and assures them that the surgery was successful. Ann can see that Dr. Steele is incredulous, and apprehends that he’s withholding the truth. Ann confronts Steele at a party, and he enumerates to her that the procedure was futile and dying is ineluctable. Ann agrees that Judith endures to be omniscient about the whole situation.

During this vicissitude Judith falls in love with Dr. Steele and they plan to marry, but Ann is solicitous about them being involved romantically as she’s aware of what’s cropping up behind Judith. While visiting the doctors office one day Judith comes across her file on Steele’s desk. Still incognizant about her health she proceeds reading her file and discovers her results being prognosis negative. Once finding out about her current status Judith is rather compulsive and starts displaying signs of melancholy, which leads her to suspect that Steele is marrying her out of pity. As a result she absconds from the relationship and returns to her normal lifestyle. After a discussion with her horse trainer Michael ( Humphrey Bogart ) she makes a restitution with Steele, and marry contiguously. Together they move to Vermont for Steele’s work where they reside for the concluding chapter of Judy’s life.

dark victroy

Bette reached the height of her acting potential in “Dark Victory”, and deserved to attain the Oscar for her portrayal of Judith Traherne, but seeing as 1939 is considered the most hellacious year for movies she was repudiated and Vivien Leigh received the Oscar that year for “Gone With The Wind”. Even though I like “Gone With The Wind” I still feel that Bette was robbed, and should have obtained the Oscar. Here she delivered the most culminating performance of her career, and really epitomizing her unparalleled acting talents all throughout the movie, most notably in the scene where she helps Ann plant the bulbs and slowly transforms into blindness. No other actress could portray the role as Judith Traherne as well as Bette.


Bette Davis has always said that this was her favorite role to play.

Off-screen, Bette Davis suffered a nervous breakdown during filming as a result of her crumbling marriage to Harmon Nelson. This didn’t prevent her from embarking on an affair with co-star George Brent.

Bette Davis pestered Warner Brothers to buy the rights to the story, thinking it a great vehicle for her. WB studio chief Jack L. Warner fought against it, arguing that no one wanted to see someone go blind. Of course, the film went on to become one of the studio’s biggest successes of that year.


Quotes from film:

Judith: “I think I’ll have a large order of prognosis negative.”

Judith: “Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can’t be destroyed. That’s our victory – our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we’re not afraid.”

Judith: “I’ve never taken orders from anyone. As long as I live, I’ll never take orders from anyone. I’m young and strong and nothing can touch me.”


Bette Davis: Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5th, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Died: October 6th, 1989 in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, France. Aged 81. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.

George Brent: Born George Brendan Nolan on March 15th, 1899 in Roscommon, Ireland. Died: May 26th, 1979 in Solana Beach, California.


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