#103) Now, Voyager (1942)

 

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#103) Now, Voyager (1942)

OR “How Charlotte Got Her Groove Back”

Directed by Irving Rapper

Written by Casey Robinson. Based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty.

Class of 2007

The Plot: Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a spinster living with her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper). Her family suspects she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, so she is sent to a local sanatorium, where kindly Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) helps Charlotte become rehabilitated. Feeling liberated, she takes a cruise to Brazil where she meets and falls for the handsome Jerry Durrance (Paul Henried). He is married with children, so their love can never be, but that doesn’t stop Charlotte from finally starting to live her life.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[a] resonant woman’s picture” and gives special mention to “one of the most famous endings in romantic cinema”. Film historian (and former Library of Congress employee) Charlie Achuff makes a strong case for the film in his essay.

But Does It Really?: One of the reasons I selected this film is because I had gone this far in the blog without watching a Bette Davis film. And I’m glad I started with “Now, Voyager”. Most of Bette Davis’ current legacy is devoted to her later career, where she played essentially a campier version of her screen persona. But “Now, Voyager” shows us why we should remember Bette Davis in the first place; the consummate actor, the radiant screen presence, and a complete understanding of a character that is 180 degrees away from the other “bitchier” roles we associate her with. “Now, Voyager” may not be the most romantic or dramatic film ever, but Bette Davis is the glue that holds it together, and you root for Charlotte the whole time.

Everybody Gets One: Director Irving Rapper started off as an assistant director and dialogue coach at Warner Bros. Having worked together on a few films, Bette Davis handpicked Rapper to direct “Now, Voyager”, though Rapper learned too late that this was a tactic on Davis’ part to maintain control of the film. After a lifetime on the stage, Gladys Cooper** turned to more film work, finding steady employment as everyone’s socialite mother. I remember her best in two musicals she appeared in during the ‘60s, “My Fair Lady” (where she doesn’t sing) and “The Happiest Millionaire” (where she does).

Wow, That’s Dated: Rear projection, pay phones, and the lost art of weenie roasts. But perhaps the film’s most famous dated quality is that it allows cigarette smoking to be sexy.

Title Track: Charlotte says “Now, voyager” once about 22 minutes into the film, reading the Walt Whitman poem the film gets its title from.

Seriously, Oscars?: While “Now, Voyager” missed out on a Best Picture nomination, it did win an Oscar in the most deserving category; Best Dramatic Score for Max Steiner’s iconic composition. Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper lost to, respectively, Greer Garson and Teresa Wright for their work in 1942’s Best Picture winner, “Mrs. Miniver”.

Other notes

  • “Now, Voyager” is actually the third of five novels that Olive Higgins Prouty wrote about the Vale family. This one is the only novel to center around Charlotte and is based on Prouty’s own experiences in sanatoriums.
  • I get the feeling that the film has deteriorated over time, or that the original print is missing. The credits in the print I watched seemed to be still frames rather than the original cards, and a few shots here and there used freeze-frames with audio over them. Not too conspicuous, I just wonder what happened.
  • The first shot of this film is of a racist lawn jockey. And we’re off and running!
  • God I love Gladys Cooper. It’s a shame she didn’t live long enough to play Madame Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music”.
  • Interesting choice to use page-turning to indicate a flashback.
  • Also note that after Dr. Jaquith breaks Charlotte’s glasses, she never needs them again. Was she near-sighted or far-sighted? I feel like either way this would come up at some point.
  • Co-stars Paul Henried and Claude Rains worked on “Casablanca” immediately after filming wrapped on “Now, Voyager”. And I mean immediately; Claude Rains finished this film and started “Casablanca” the next day.
  • Did we miss a makeover montage for Charlotte? Apparently they did film one, but producer Hal Wallis had it cut at the last minute.
  • While approaching Copacabana, Jerry says “there’s music in the word.” He was on to something. And no, I’m not including a link to that song. Find it yourself.
  • This movie felt it necessary to have not one but two comic relief characters; Frank Puglia as Giuseppe the confused cab-driver, and Mary Wickes as Dora the sassy nurse. Don’t know how I feel about either of them.
  • Jerry first kisses Charlotte while she is asleep. Creepy or charming? You decide.
  • Jerry’s daughter Tina reminds me of another troubled 12-year old Tina.
  • That last line is a classic, and a good reminder of a time when people said “Don’t let’s” instead of just “Don’t”.

Legacy

  • “Now, Voyager” is featured prominently in the coming of age film “Summer of ‘42”. And I swear if the NFR puts it on this list and I have to sit through that boring movie one more time…
  • Five years after the film’s release, Olive Higgins Prouty wrote “Home Port”, which focused on the minor character of Murray. It was written with the intention of making it into a film, but that never happened.
  • The major pop culture takeaway from this film was, of all things, a maneuver. Though he didn’t invent it, Paul Henried definitely popularized the romantic gesture of lighting two cigarettes in your mouth at once and handing one to your partner. Everyone’s done it. I took up smoking once just to do that move.

 

** 2018 Update: Gladys Cooper has two additional films on the 2018 roster: “Rebecca” and “My Fair Lady”.

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