Now, Voyager (1942)

Now, Voyager (1942)

Synopsis:

Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a wealthy spinster on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Against her domineering mother’s (Gladys Cooper, My Fair Lady) wishes, Charlotte goes to a mental institution, where she improves with the help of a kind psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains, The Invisible Man). Later, Charlotte travels to South America and falls in love with a married man (Paul Henreid, Casablanca).

Reaction & Thoughts:

“The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman

As far as I’m concerned, Now, Voyager is a perfect blend of romance, sentiment, and melodrama — it’s one of the most romantic movies of all time. It was sensitively directed by Irving Rapper (The Corn is Green) from a fine screenplay by Casey Robinson (Dark Victory) based on the 1941 novel by Olive Higgins Prouty (Stella Dallas).

Now, Voyager marked the zenith of the 1940s woman’s picture, a subgenre that flourished in Hollywood during WWII. There are many interesting characters. There are also some stimulating subplots. But this is more than anything else the affecting and inspiring story of a woman’s growth and rebirth — it is female empowerment on steroids. 

The film’s troubled heroine, Charlotte Vale, embarks on a journey of self-discovery that I found relatable, poignant and appealing. Charlotte’s issues are portrayed with honesty and clarity, and you root for her to find happiness. The second half focuses on Charlotte’s efforts to help the sad daughter (Janis Wilson, Watch on the Rhine) of her lover. This section of the movie adds another intriguing layer to the narrative.

Bette Davis is unforgettable as Charlotte. I don’t want to sound like I’m not appreciative of the outstanding work of actors Paul Henried, Gladys Cooper and Claude Rains, but Davis’s captivating performance is what binds the film together. She has this pensive, reflective look throughout the entire movie. It’s as if Davis is evaluating everything she says and does — the analytic approach fits the role so well.

I was surprised to read that Davis wasn’t the studio’s first choice. Warner Bros. wanted Ginger Rogers (The Major and the Minor) or Irene Dunne (Love Affair). Davis was furious and demanded the role for herself — Charlotte remains one of her finest creations. The cast also includes Ilka Chase (The Animal Kingdom), John Loder (Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage) and Bonita Granville (These Three) as Davis’s niece.

Aside from Davis’s excellent work, the most memorable thing about the movie is German composer Max Steiner’s (Gone with the Wind) extraordinarily moving, Oscar-winning music score. Steiner’s score is among my all-time favorites scores. After Now, Voyager became a huge hit, songwriter Kim Gannon added lyrics to Steiner’s main theme, “It Can’t be Wrong,” and the song became as popular as the movie itself.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Now, Voyager is a truly moving story that rises well above its soapy trappings. The film was an enormous hit with wartime audiences and has continued to influence other filmmakers — Robert Mulligan’s 1971 popular romantic drama Summer of ’42 paid homage to it. The movie also contains one of Bette Davis’s very best performances. This is the Hollywood Dream Factory at its finest. B&W, 117 minutes, Not Rated.

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