AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Dark Victory
Director: Edmund Goulding (Dir)
Release Date:   22 Apr 1939
Production Date:   early Oct--late Nov 1938
Duration (in mins):   105
Duration (in reels):   11
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Cast:   Bette Davis (Judith Traherne)  
    George Brent (Dr. Frederick Steele)  
    Humphrey Bogart (Michael O'Leary)  
    Geraldine Fitzgerald (Ann King)  
    Ronald Reagan (Alec [Hamin])  
    Henry Travers (Dr. Parsons)  
    Cora Witherspoon (Carrie [Spottswood])  
    Dorothy Peterson (Miss Wainwright)  
    Virginia Brissac (Martha)  
    Charles Richman (Colonel Mantle)  
    Herbert Rawlinson (Dr. Carter)  
    Leonard Mudie (Dr. Driscoll)  
    Fay Helm (Miss Dodd)  
    Lottie Williams (Lucy)  
    Diane Bernard (Agatha)  
    Jack Mower (Veterinarian)  
    William Worthington (First specialist)  
    Alexander Leftwich (Second specialist)  
    Ila Rhodes (Secretary)  
    Stuart Holmes (Doctor)  
    Frank Darien (Anxious little man)  
    Sidney Bracy (Bartender)  
    Rosella Towne (Girl in box)  
    Edgar Edwards (Trainer)  
    Jeffrey Sayre (Doctor)  
    Will Morgan (Doctor)  
    Wedgwood Nowell (Doctor)  
    Nat Carr (Doctor)  
    Ed Graham (Doctor)  
    Jack Goodrich (Doctor)  
    Maris Wrixon (Judith's friend)  
    Richard Bond (Judith's friend)  
    Wilda Bennett (Judith's friend)  
    Leyland Hodgson (Judith's friend)  
    Mary Currier (Judith's friend)  
    David Newell (Judith's friend)  
    Marian Alden (Judith's friend)  
    Paulette Evans (Judith's friend)  
    Frank Mayo (Judith's friend)  
    Speirs Ruskell (Dr. Steele's assistant)  
    John Harron    
    John Ridgely    

Summary: When Judith Traherne, a gay, irrepressible member of the Long Island horsey set begins to suffer from chronic headaches, her family physician, Dr. Parsons, insists that she see Dr. Frederick Steele, a brilliant young brain surgeon. Judith arrives at Steele's office on the day that he is to retire from surgery because of the death of one of his patients, but, intrigued by Judith's symptoms and charmed by her spirit, he postpones his retirement and takes her case. After performing delicate brain surgery on Judith, Steele discovers that her tumor is malignant and that she has only ten months to live. Her doctors decide to hide the grim truth from Judith, but Steele is unable to coneal the facts from her best friend, Ann King. After her recovery from surgery, Judith and Steele fall in love and plan to be married. While packing for their move to Vermont, Judith accidentally comes across her case history file and learns of her hopeless prognosis. Angered at Steele and Ann's betrayal, Judith spurns Steele and begins a frivolous pursuit of pleasure, hiding her heartbreak with deceitful gaiety. When Steele admonishes her to find peace so that she can meet death beautifully and finely, however, Judith realizes that she must extract from life a full measure of happiness in the few brief months she has left with the man she loves. She and Steele are married and decide to carry on as if an entire life stretched ahead of them, ignoring the shadow of death that is ever present. Then, one morning, death comes to Judith and she faces it with courage and dignity, thus winning a victory over the forces of darkness. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: A First National Picture; Jack L. Warner in charge of prod
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Edmund Goulding (Dir)
  Frank Heath (Asst dir)
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  David Lewis (Assoc prod)
Writer: Casey Robinson (Scr)
Photography: Ernest Haller (Photog)
Art Direction: Robert Haas (Art dir)
Film Editor: William Holmes (Ed)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Gowns)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Mus dir)
  Max Steiner (Mus)
  Hugo Friedhofer (Orch arr)
Sound: Robert B. Lee (Sd)
Production Misc: Dr. Leo Schulman (Tech dir)
  Robert Ross (Unit mgr)
Country: United States

Songs: "Oh Give Me Time for Tenderness," music and lyrics by Elsie Janis and Edmund Goulding.
Composer: Edmund Goulding
  Elsie Janis
Source Text: Based on the play Dark Victory by George Emerson Brewer, Jr. and Bertram Bloch (New York, 9 Nov 1934).
Authors: Bertram Bloch
  George Emerson Brewer Jr.

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 22/4/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP8791

PCA NO: 4835
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Victor System

Genre: Melodrama
Subjects (Major): Brain surgery
  Death and dying
  Incurable diseases
Subjects (Minor): Friendship
  Horse owners
  Long Island (NY)

Note: A 1935 memo from M-G-M production executive David O. Selznick to Greta Garbo discloses that Selznick suggested buying the play Dark Victory as a vehicle for Garbo and Fredric March. At the time, the two were scheduled to make Anna Karenina with George Cukor, but Selznick felt that the picture was too similiar to Garbo's other costume dramas and suggested that she consider Dark Victory instead. In 1936, Selznick offered the lead to Merle Oberon; however, because of complications involving her contract, Oberon refused the role. For additional information on the subject, see entry below for The Garden of Allah . Modern sources add that Bette Davis discovered the play in 1938 and touted it to every producer on the Warner Bros. lot. When producer David Lewis and director Edmund Goulding expressed an interest, studio head Hal Wallis agreed to buy the play to keep Davis happy. Warners then bought the play from Selznick for $50,000. Davis claims that Goudling worked on the script and added the character of Judith's best friend Ann so that Judith would never have to complain about her tragedy.
       According to materials contained in the Production Files at the AMPAS Library, to create the appearance of snow, technicians dipped cornflakes in white lead. The lead kept the flakes from blowing away in the strong winds of the San Fernando Valley, where the film was being shot on location. Dark Victory marked the American motion picture debut of Irish-born actress Geraldine Fitzgerald (1913--2005), who previously had appeared on stage and made several British films, The picture was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Original Score. In 1938, Barbara Stanwyck and Melvyn Douglas starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the play, and in 1939 Davis and Spencer Tracy starred in another radio version of the story. In 1963, United Artists released Stolen Hours , also based on the play, starring Susan Hayward and Michael Craig and directed by Daniel Petrie. In 1976, NBC broadcast a television version directed by Robert Butler and starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Anthony Hopkins. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   8 Mar 39   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Mar 39   p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 38   pp. 8-9.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Nov 38   pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Mar 39   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   13 Mar 39   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   12 Nov 38   p. 47.
Motion Picture Herald   11 Mar 39   p. 40.
New York Times   21 Apr 39   p. 27.
Variety   15 Mar 39   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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