Now, Voyager (1942)

Now, Voyager (1942)

Synopsis:

Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a New England 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 (Claude Rains, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Later, Charlotte travels to South America and falls in love with a married man (Paul Henreid, Casablanca).

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”

Sensitively directed by Irving Rapper (The Corn is Green and Deception) from a screenplay by Casey Robinson (Captain Blood and Dark Victory) based on the 1941 novel by Olive Higgins Prouty (Stella Dallas), Now, Voyager is a near-perfect blend of romance, sentiment and melodrama — it’s one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic dramas.

Now, Voyager is also forward-thinking in its approach to women’s issues, eulogizing gender self-determination in a bold manner. The movie’s famous final scene is probably something that was constructed to appease the censors — in the 1940s a woman couldn’t ride off into the sunset with a married man — but this same manufactured morality inadvertently pushes the idea of female empowerment. 

I have to admit that the film’s second half is not as strong as the first half, which focuses on Charlotte’s efforts to help the daughter (Janis Wilson, Watch on the Rhine) of her lover. This section is a bit overlong, but it is essential to the film’s coda so I’m unable to come up with a viable alternative. The movie quickly recovers to deliver a smashing ending; one of those perfect finales that you rarely see in a movie.

Bette Davis gives the role of Charlotte Vale everything she’s got. I don’t want to sound like I’m not appreciative of the great work of actors Gladys Cooper (Oscar-nominated), Claude Rains and Paul Henried, but Davis’s captivating performance ties the film together. She has this pensive, reflective look throughout the film. 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 (I Remember Mama). Barbara Stanwyck, who had great success with author Prouty’s Stella Dallas, was interested in playing Charlotte. Davis was furious and demanded the role for herself — Charlotte remains one of her finest creations! The cast also includes Ilka Chase (No Time for Love), John Loder (Sabotage), Lee Patrick (The Maltese Falcon), Bonita Granville (These Three) and Mary Wickes (The Man Who Came to Dinner) as a nurse.

Apart from Davis’s excellent work, the most memorable thing about the movie is German composer Max Steiner’s (Gone with the Wind and Since You Went Away) extraordinarily moving, Oscar-winning music score.

Steiner’s score is among my all-time favorites scores and I place it right next to Bernard Herrmann’s (The Trouble with Harry, North by Northwest and Psycho) and John Williams’s (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) best works. After the film became a big hit, songwriter Kim Gannon added lyrics to Steiner’s main theme, “It Can’t be Wrong,” and the song became a big hit.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Now, Voyager is a truly moving story that rises well above its soapy trappings. The film was a huge 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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