Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is young, rich, beautiful and living life to the hilt. However, she is drinking and smoking a bit more than she should and has been experiencing frequent headaches. Knowing Judy will never see a doctor, her friends arrange for her to meet a brain specialist, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) at a cocktail party. Although initially she is ticked, eventually Judy gives into being examined and Steele is able to confirm his original diagnosis: she has a brain tumor. The surgery is successful and by the time all is said and done she is in love with the doctor, who proposes. However, Steele then confides to Judy's secretary, Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald), that the tumor will return within a year and this time prove fatal. Judy inadvertently learns the truth, decides Steele is just marrying her out of pity, and proceeds to go on a massive binge. However, Michael O'Leary (Humphrey Bogart), the man who trains her beloved horse Challenger, finally convinces her to take what happiness she can.
Davis and Fitzgerald are far and away the best thing in "Dark Victory." The script by Casey Robinson, based on the play by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Block, is as manipulative a tear jerker as you are ever going to see come out of Hollywood. Brent's performance is okay, although his character is a tad too saintly, and Bogart's accent is strange but passable, but Ronald Reagan's performance as Alec Hamin, who tends to get a bit tipsy at the parties, is pretty laughable. However, as Judith Traherne, Bette Davis certainly redeems most of the flaws of this 1939 film directed by Edmund Goulding. "Dark Victory" was remade as a TV movie with Elizabeth Montgomery, and while the script was vastly improved, even the talented Montgomery could not touch Davis' performance. This is one of her fan's favorite films with a memorable final scene during which they get to cry their eyes out.