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At the height of WWII, Hollywood produced a lot of excellent melodramas.
These were the vehicles the studios created for its stars of that era. It
was either a Joan Crawford picture, or a Barbara Stanwyck, or a Bette Davis
one, since their presence, bigger than life, was the only reason to bring
these stories to the big screen.
Take this one, for instance, under the direction of Irving Rapper. It had all the right elements, yet it was chaste enough to pass the censor. Undoubtedly, this movie owes a lot to the fantastic score by the talented Max Steiner who was a genius. Mr. Steiner's music plays the haunting melodies with such flair, we feel we are listening to a great symphonic work.
The story, by today's standards wouldn't raise an eyebrow. At the time it came out, it was a different thing. After all, Jerry was a married man with a daughter and a situation that had no easy solution then. That makes Charlotte Vale suffer after she found her soul mate aboard the ship that served to free herself from a despotic mother.
Bette Davis plays Charlotte to perfection. Her scenes with Paul Hendried lighting the two cigarettes is something to cherish by film fans. The chemistry that Bette Davis shared with her leading men was no small accomplishment. She was an actress that knew how to pull the heart strings of the general public. She had such a charisma and power to lose herself in all those strong women she played through the years. The transformation of the plain Charlotte to the smart woman, who embarks on a tour to begin a new life, is something out of a fairy tale, but Ms. Davis pulls it with great panache.
The rest of the cast was excellent. Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper, Bonita Granville, Ilka Chase! They only come once in a lifetime. No one in present day Hollywood comes near to that. It was perfection.
I first saw this wonderful film in the early 1960's on television -
made in 1941 is seemed old fashioned, slightly stilted and truly from
Later on in the seventies and eighties I'd watch the occasional late nite re-run on TV and it just seemed camp.
In the nineties I bought the video - something to keep. A little bit of cinema history.
Last week I bought "Now Voyager" on DVD and was completely blown away!
Perhaps it's because I know the story so well, but I was able to appreciate the movie on several different levels such as cinematography, direction and editing.
Bette Davis was always the prime reason for watching but I never realized what a fine naturalistic actor Claude Raines was. His scenes with Bette Davis exude intelligence and warmth.
I stopped to consider what a 2004 remake might look like - who could play the leads? Who would direct? What would the score be like?
With no disrespect to anyone in the movie industry, I don't think a remake would ever be possible.
The actors and technicians on this movie were truly masters of their craft.
I defy anyone who watches the first ten minutes not to be hooked until the closing credits.
After seeing this great film, I realized that not every mother wants
the best for her children.
Gladys Cooper gave a brilliant performance as the outrageously domineering mother. Her best supporting actress nomination was well deserved. It's a pity she lost the coveted award to Teresa Wright, the tragic daughter-in-law in "Mrs. Miniver." Obviously, Oscar voters could not bring themselves to vote for such a wicked mother that Cooper portrayed. (The following year Cooper gave another brilliant performance as the wretched nun in "Song of Bernadette." She lost the Oscar because who would vote for a vicious nun?)
No words are adequate to describe the outstanding Bette Davis performance in this film. Sorry, Greer Garson, Bette deserved this Oscar as she did so many. Her change from a hopelessly-drawn spinster to a ravishing beauty with all its torment can never be forgotten.
Thank you Claude Rains for your excellent portrayal of the psychiatrist.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How many people can relate to Charlotte Vale? Many, for I'd assume it'd
be hard-pressed for anyone not to at one point in their life gone
through a period of dejection, rejection, and evolve until finally the
inner self comes out shining.
And what a character evolution this is. Charlotte Vale, played expertly and with fantastic repression hiding an enormous passion and will to live by the great Bette Davis as a woman who's life has been all but destroyed by her domineering, selfish mother (Gladys Cooper) until she meets kind Dr. Jasquith, a psychiatrist (Claude Rains) who makes her take the first steps to recovery. A physical transformation ensues from dowdy to chic, and on a cruise -- temporarily posing as Ms. Beauchamp -- she meets Jerry Durrance (elegant, smoldering Paul Henreid with sad eyes that virtually talk) with whom she begins a tentative acquaintance with that turns to love. Once home and deciding on an independent life away from her mother she takes on a younger version of herself, Tina, played poignantly by Janis Wilson, whom Charlotte learns is none other than Jerry's daughter. Nevertheless, Charlotte tutors Tina back to mental health, and even while she rejects the marriage of a certain convenience to Elliot Livingston (John Loder) since she cannot forget Jerry, she decides to remain independent despite of the hinted possibility of not fulfilling her affair with him at the end. The last scene, with Henreid and Davis gazing into each other's eyes as he lights up a cigarette for the both of them, and Davis' last line, "Don't let's ask for the moon -- we have the stars," is cinematic romance at its finest.
Irving Rapper, one of Hollywood's gay directors, could not have made a gayer film than this and my view is not controversial: Hollywood did not allow overt films about homosexuality back then, unless the man was a fop and a much secondary character meant to be the butt of fag jokes. Writers and directors alike decided to somehow incorporate a gay element without making it clear off the bat and devised stories that were strongly symbolic in nature. And while Olivia Higgins Prouty's novel was not intended to be interpreted as such, her quoting of Walt Whitman's "Now voyager, sail forth to seek and find" is interesting when Whitman himself was homosexual. Plus, the added element of Charlotte Vale's damaged persona by her mother who forced her into total repression -- something very close to many gay men and women -- and her ultimate transformation into a complete person due to her inner strength has also been a recurring gay theme.
But despite this view, the fact remains that NOW VOYAGER is a consummate woman's picture, a superior weepie that hasn't aged due to its themes of mental cruelty within family members and one person's quiet courage to take on the world and resume her own sense of identity despite years of baggage. Another version of parental abuse would re-surface as the Mexican drama LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE but aside from the mother-daughter relationship, the stories are completely different even in tone and cultural values.
Bette Davis received another Oscar nod for her role here as did Gladys Cooper, but the entire cast lends good support, from Ilka Chase and Bonita Granville as Charlotte's cousins down to Mary Wickes in a small yet funny role as a nurse tending to a bed-ridden Cooper and being a small agent in allowing Davis' Vale to go on with her life.
In the 1942 screen adaptation of the 1941 bestseller by Olive
Higgins-Prouty, Bette Davis and Paul Henreid provide excellent, subtle
performances as Charlotte Vale (self-described Spinster Aunt) and J.D.
(Jerry) Durrance, the married man she meets, befriends, and with whom
she falls in love on a cruise following a transformative stay at the
Vermont Sanatorium operated by Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). Reviewers
often speak of the themes of self-sacrifice and relate it to the war,
which would have been an attractive reason to make the film, but the
reality was that the novel was a popular best-seller, Higgins-Prouty's
earlier novel, Stella Dallas, was also a popular film (and later a
radio series), and the studio stood to do well financially if the movie
turned out well. Hal Wallis' deft hand as producer is seen here,
especially in his choice of Orry Kelly as costume designer for Bette
Davis. He and the studio worked within the limits of censors'
requirements, which indicated that there could be no intimation that
the two main characters had sex (which was implicit in the novel but
never explicitly stated, where the behavior between the two in the love
scenes were generally glossed over most of the time), and that they
could not share the same blanket in the scene where they are in a hut
on a Brazilian mountain, stranded. They also had to change locales for
the story, because the novel had the sea voyage set in and around
Italy, Gibralter, etc. In spite of any restrictions placed on the
filmmakers and actors, the film followed the novel very closely,
especially with respect to dialogue. The big point of contention has
always been: who invented the two-cigarette lighting gesture that Paul
Henreid became famous for later? According to some, George Brent and
Bette Davis did something similar earlier in another film, and
according to Paul Henreid and Bette Davis, there was a cigarette
exchange ritual in the script which was sort of awkward, so they
improvised based on Paul Henreid's experience with his wife on car
trips. The latter seems likely, as there was a cigarette-exchange
ritual in the novel (Jerry would give Charlotte a cigarette, lighting
hers and then his own on one match, and then they would exchange
cigarettes with each other so that Charlotte smoked the one that had
been in Jerry's mouth and vice versa), which would have been slightly
awkward in practice.
All in all, this is a truly excellent film with great production values, true to the novel on which it was based, and a wonderful ensemble cast.
"Now, Voyager" is arguably one of the best of all motion pictures by
Bette Davis. As Charlotte Vale, a rich Bostonian smothered by a mother
who had her late in life, Davis plays a frumpy, low-esteemed, near
recluse of a woman. That is, until her cousin intervenes by bringing a
psychiatrist, Dr. Jacquith (Claude Rains) into Miss Vale's life.
Miss Vale's cousin and shrink conspire to bring her out of the steel shell her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper) has encased her within. Their idea is to send her on a cruise with the doctor's advice to learn everything, do everything, engage everyone. The results are a remarkable transformation of a woman who believed she was an 'ugly duckling' into Miss Bette Davis as a sizzling hot beauty like she never was before or after in any other film.
How Miss Davis didn't view herself as a beauty or use her beauty to create her success as an actress is what "Now, Voyager," proves is most remarkable about her 66 year long acting career. If she had wanted to be a "bombshell," she could have, two snaps up. Davis didn't want to be a "movie star," or "glamor girl." She wanted to be a great actor and achieved her life's goal. Not only did she make her career using acting skill and shrewd business finesse, Bette Davis also made quite a few other people's acting careers work well for them by taking a back seat in films with her role having a weaker script. Thus, as co-actors they could collaborate to make out of an average screenplay a screen hit and a new acting star. Davis was so unselfish an actor that she was in the acting business to benefit the art. That's why she's my favorite actor of all time: she was so self-assured as an actor in a man's world (in the 20th century), that her ego didn't get in the way of making truly great movies with co-actors with whom she worked with as a team player. "Now, Voyage," is one such film. Clearly, she steals the show, but she takes Paul Heinried (love interest, Jerry) right next to her, conjoined at the hip. What a delight it must have been to work with a true artist who was a great expert at her craft.
Bogie & Bergman in "Casablanca," don't have one thing over Davis & Heinreid in "Now, Voyager," when it comes to the most intense, well acted, extremely well scripted romantic drama that has it all. Davis is glamorous beyond compare and Heinreid is a smooth, sensuous, suitor.
This is my favorite of all of her motion pictures (at least I believe I own and have seen them all). How anyone could say that Bette Davis wasn't a raving beauty after they saw her in this film is beyond me. Not only does "Jerry" fall madly in love with "Charlotte," so does audience after audience, generation after generation.
There's much more to this great story, but I'm not telling! Buy the DVD.
This was surprisingly good. I say "surprising" because I am not a man
who likes soap operas and that's what I expected here from everything I
had read about this film. The only reason I obtained it was that it was
part of a 3-pack Bette Davis collection and I wanted a DVD of "The
Well, this turned out to be a very interesting and gratifying story. No, I still didn't like the corny - and adulterous (which Hollywood loves to glamorize) - love affair between Davis and married man Paul Henreid. However, I did enjoy the ugly duckling-turned-beauty story that featured Davis tolerating her nasty mother and then using her experiences to help another young lady who was suffering from a similar inferiority complex.
Gladys Cooper was outstanding as the irritating, brutal mother. Janis Wilson was the young girl helped in the end by Davis. Wilson overacts something fierce but the message is so nice and the sentimentality so caring that you put up with the kid's performance.
Claude Raines also was likable as the psychologist. He had a number of good lines in this film. The movie was nicely filmed and looks particularly good on the DVD transfer with attractive grays completing the black-and-white.
Look. I *love* "Now Voyager." I don't love it as a guilty pleasure, or
as camp, or as an example of film-making from the Golden Age of
Hollywood. I don't love it as a soap opera or as example of the long
lost genre, the theatrical-release, big budget, "woman's picture." I
love "Now Voyager" as a movie. "Now Voyager"'s quality could stand
comparison with any great film out there.
Plot: Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), the psychologically abused child of a sadistic iceberg of a wealthy, Boston Brahmin mother (Gladys Cooper), thanks to the intervention of a compassionate sister-in-law (Ilka Chase) is packed off to a posh asylum, where Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) restores her to well being.
Charlotte loses weight, loses her glasses, and receives tutoring in how to dress and carry herself. Superficially quite the glamor puss, she goes on a cruise and charms Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) an unhappily married architect.
Circumstance intervenes and Jerry and Charlotte enjoy a brief affair. As time goes on, they make some heart-wrenching decisions about how to handle their adulterous love; along the way, Charlotte forms an important bond with Tina, Jerry's daughter, whose mother does not love her.
The screen is full of women's bodies, women's voices, women's choices, and women's lives. There are old women, middle aged women, and young women. There are good and bad women in every class. For example, while Tina is the sweet but unattractive and lost young woman, Bonita Granville, as June Vale, is a pretty, blonde, young b----. The scenes in which June, without censure from any quarter, uses her youth and prettiness to torment her pathetic spinster aunt are terrific, honest, and cruel.
The plot is built around the issues of which women's lives are built: their relationships with their mothers, or mother figures, both good and evil; how the world treats women based on how women look; women's competitions with, and support of, other women; what women do to survive economically and emotionally.
The scenes between Charlotte and Tina are stunning in their sensuality. Tina, the daughter-surrogate, and Charlotte, the mother-figure, cling to each other in bed at night, and while sleeping under the stars on a camping trip; Tina sobs tears that wet her face; Charlotte strokes Tina's hair, and Tina clings to Charlotte's bosom.
The simple message here is how incredibly important parenting is in the lives of both children and mothers, and how a person who has suffered -- Charlotte -- can often be a better person than those who have had it easier -- Mrs. Vale and June, and how having been handed a life that denies you love doesn't make it impossible for you to go out and find love on your own, to create your own family.
Mrs. Vale is one of the most naked depictions of a child abusing mother ever committed to the screen. No, there are no graphic scenes of abuse, but the film never lets you believe that this woman is anything but a nightmare who damaged her child for life while the world let her get away with it because of her money.
Again, the abuse is not graphic, but it is made certain. In one brilliant scene, Charlotte has returned to her mother's house after being out in the world and, for the first time in her life, experiencing some affection, joy, and confidence.
Charlotte speaks in her new voice, a voice of self possession. But she is trying to be nice to her mother, and her voice quavers a bit, without losing its ground.
Charlotte is out of camera range; we hear her, but do not see her. Her mother's back is to the camera. She is motionless -- except for her bejeweled, claw-like hand, which taps rhythmically against a carved bed post. One thinks of a cat waiting to pounce. One realizes that all that is going through Mrs. Vale's head is, "How do I destroy her this time?" That motion alone renders the scene both chilling and telling.
Charlotte's love affair with Jerry Durrance is equally complex. This is no "soap opera" as some reviews here dismiss it as. Viewers are so caught up with Jerry's (Henreid's) trick of lighting two cigarettes at once that they miss the depth, power, and complexity of this relationship.
"Now Voyager" gives us a terribly convincing portrait of two people who really love each other, and whose love is apparently doomed. Jerry is a superficially charming, nice guy whose unhappy marriage has given him reason to see beneath the surfaces of life; he's no rocket scientist, though, so he's not as smart as he could be. He is attracted to a superficially glamorous woman whose secret past as an ugly duckling and abused child gives her a hidden side. For both, society demands that they present a pleasant facade, but pain has caused them to develop in ways that many people never do. Their love is real.
Jerry is deep enough to be attracted, but not deep enough to realize, as soon as he might, how much his acting on his attraction could potentially devastate Charlotte, a woman whose hold on her life is tenuous, at best.
Whether their love can ever be realized, or whether it would continue to grow outside of the confines of an adulterous affair begun on a cruise ship and consummated after the most outlandish interventions of fate on a mountain road, is a question viewers can still debate to this day. What is clear is that this love is real, and its stakes are terribly high. Charlotte's whole life hangs in the balance here, no less so than a Scorcese hero's life hangs in the balance given how he handles his weapon.
Claude Rains is solid as Charlotte's best hope at the beginning, and, perhaps, also at the end of the movie..
From frumpy momma's unwanted adult child to liberated raving beauty,
Davis is in her element in every scene. With Paul Henreid & Claude
Rains, Gladys Cooper & a spot-on supporting cast, "Voyager..." is,
hands down, best love story I believe I've ever seen.
Of course, taste in romances has everything to do with what a viewer finds great. I don't like phony, fantasy, goofy romantic shows at all. "Voyager..." has a gritty plot that reveals the kind of love between unrequited lovers that's worth sacrificing oneself for.
Davis' wardrobe is as fabulous in this movie as it is in "Deception," (also co-starring Claude Rains & Paul Henreid). Perhaps having both of them in both shows is what produced the mastery of all the elements in both movies. Though "Deception" is also a love story, Claude Rains coming seriously close to stealing the show from Davis.
In "Voyager..." the characters are much more egalitarian. The balance of love & despise is what makes the movies so intriguing. Davis should have taken an Oscar home for her leading role.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On paper, the plot of "Now, Voyager" sounds too ridiculous to be played straight. And yet, despite its soap opera origins, this is a work of beauty and artistry: largely because of the magnificent lead performance by Bette Davis, but also because of Irving Rapper's sensitive direction and the first class production values. Even just twenty years later, the same material would come out as hopelessly camp (imagine, if you will, what would have happened if this had been shot in lurid 1959 Technicolor, starring Susan Hayward or, worse yet, Lana Turner). POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN PLOT SUMMARY: Davis is Charlotte Vale, a repressed Boston spinster ("MISS Charlotte Vale," as her hellish mother would sneer) under the complete control of her iron-fisted mother (Gladys Cooper in an unforgettable performance). With the aid of a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Jacquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte transforms into a sophisticated-looking woman, but she remains insecure and shy. Jacquith sends her off on a restorative cruise to Brazil with an admonition from Walt Whitman: "Now, voyager...set ye forth to seek and find." What she finds is unconditional love in the form of a married man, Jerry (Paul Henreid), who is touched by Charlotte's plight and helps her to blossom even further. Knowing their love affair is impossible, Charlotte and Jerry vow to never see or speak to each other again once their vacation is over. At last having known what it is to love and be loved, Charlotte returns home and, for the first time, stands up to her mother and begins creating a new life for herself. Some time later, she accidentally meets Jerry's adolescent daughter Tina (the excellent Janis Wilson), who is the very picture of a 13-year-old, frightened, repressed Charlotte Vale. Charlotte then finds a new purpose in life: helping Tina out of her shell, just as Jerry had helped Charlotte. END SUMMARY/SPOILERS. Clearly, the plot teetered dangerously close to bathos. And, in today's quest for "realism," this film could never survive a contemporary telling. But the actors so believe in it, so does the audience. In spite of the properly lush Max Steiner score, in spite of the grand Hollywood style, in spite of the operatic silliness of some of the plot devices, the end result is never less than convincing. At the heart of it, of course, is Bette Davis, in perhaps her finest, most restrained performance ever. Never once does she "ham it up"; and the material practically invites overacting. Yes, the performances and dialogue are stylized, but this is what MOVIES are all about. It treads a fine line between fantasy and honesty; you never once forget that you're watching a movie (which is a high compliment in my book), and it's all so artfully done, you believe (wish?) that real life is truly like it. Even in 1942, that was a rare feat--and impossible today.
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