Filming went a few weeks over schedule, which in turn caused some conflicts with Casablanca (1942), which also starred Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Rains finished work on this movie on June 3rd in 1942 and did his first scene on Casablanca (1942) at 10:30 the next morning.
For the first scene after Charlotte's metamorphosis, Hal B. Wallis asked Orry-Kelly to put her in a wide-brimmed hat so the audience wouldn't get a full look at her new face until later. He also wanted to maintain a sense of her shyness. Jack L. Warner objected to the choice, but Wallis ignored him.
The facilities and philosophy of Cascade, the "sanatorium" where Charlotte is treated in the book and movie, are based on the real-life Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA, where author Olive Higgins Prouty had once sought treatment. The Riggs Center was notable at the time for its focus on physical activity, occupational therapy, daily talk therapy sessions, and eschewing lobotomies and other drastic medical treatments of the time.
Principal shooting began on April 7 1942 and ended on June 23 with some retakes shot in early July. The completed film was released at the end of October 1942 to mixed critical notices and a rapturous public reception.
On-set observers reported that Bette Davis often seemed to be directing the film for Irving Rapper. Unlike others she had worked with, his approach to her was much more conciliatory. Rather than order her to play a scene a certain way, he would ask her to try his ideas to see if they would work for her.
To play Charlotte before her transformation, Bette Davis asked costume designer Orry-Kelly to pad her figure to suggest extra weight, then she had makeup artist Perc Westmore give her thicker eyebrows. Her look in the film was a compromise. Originally she had wanted a more extreme look, but Hal B. Wallis considered it too grotesque.
The Walt Whitman poem that Bette Davis reads (just before leaving Cascades) is "The Untold Want" from Songs of Parting (just 2 lines): "The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,/ Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find."
The comic scenes in which Giuseppe (Frank Puglia), the cab driver, drives Charlotte (Bette Davis) and Jerry (Paul Henreid) up Sugar Loaf in Rio are effective because Giuseppe does not speak English and neither Charlotte nor Jerry speak Portuguese. Yet, the comedy is even more intensified because Giuseppe does not speak Portuguese either. Rather he jabbers on in a sort of 'lingua franca' mixture of Pugli's native Scilian, Spanish, and Portuguese. All of it spoken with an Italian accent. Ironically, the novel has this scene set in Naples, which has led some to wonder if the script was initially to follow the novel's cruise of the Mediterranean.
Bette Davis had walked out of Warner Bros. before the making of this movie and refused to play Charlotte Vale. According to Ginger Rogers, she had been given the script to read as a replacement of Davis and was desperate to play Charlotte. Davis got wind of this and came back to the studio, playing the character that was originally intended for her. Rogers said that she "would have given anything to play Charlotte Vale - even if I did let Jack L. Warner beat me at tennis!"
Charlotte's relationship to Lisa (played by Ilka Chase) is never made clear in the movie; in the novel Lisa is the widow of Charlotte's late brother Rupert. A subplot of the novel, cut from the movie, deals with Lisa's remarriage and the family's disapproval.
Within three weeks, the film was six and a half days behind schedule. Among the problems were weather delays during location shooting at Laguna Beach, Bette Davis' illnesses and Gladys Cooper's problems remembering her lines (she was putting in long nights at the USO helping with the war effort). In addition, Davis worked very slowly, insisting on time to analyse every scene as it was shot.
Hal B. Wallis cut a scene in which Lisa takes Charlotte to a beauty parlour before her ocean voyage, so that the audience first sees the transformed Bette Davis at the same time as the ship's passengers. He also cut a silent dream sequence in which the young Charlotte dances with the ship's officer with whom she was once in love.
"Now Voyager" was actually the third book in a five-part saga of the Vales, a high-class Boston family, written by Olive Higgins Prouty over a 12-year period from 1936 to 1947. When Warner Brothers bought the film rights to the novel, Prouty wrote a lengthy letter to her literary agent, setting out how she felt the production should be mounted. She felt strongly that the best way to dramatize the flashbacks would be to feature short silent segments woven into the main sound narrative. Her letter made its way to producer Hal B. Wallis at Warners, who subsequently ignored her suggestions. Prouty wrote the next novel in the series, "Home Port," with an eye to it being filmed, and while a script exists, it was never produced.
The film is remembered for the scene in which Paul Henreid places two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them and then passes one to Bette Davis. This wasn't an original idea, a similar exchange occurred ten years earlier between Ruth Chatterton and George Brent in The Rich Are Always with Us (1932), which happens to have Bette Davis in it. Director Rapper subsequently called Henreid "a liar" for claiming he thought of it, and the director pointed out it had been done in a D. W. Griffith film in 1917.