January came and went in a flash without my writing about the final film on my list of 10 Classics to see in 2014, NOW, VOYAGER (1942). So I resolved I would do that before turning the page on February 1st!
NOW, VOYAGER was one of my favorite films on last year's list, a marvelous example of the studio system at its finest. Everything about this lush romance is top-drawer, from the deep cast to the shimmering black and white photography by Sol Polito to gowns by Orry-Kelly and the memorable score by Max Steiner. I was very, very glad I had put this film on my list and finally saw it.
Bette Davis stars as Charlotte Vale, a repressed, homely spinster whose mother (Gladys Cooper) treats her with contempt, attempting to crush her spirit and independence at every turn. Charlotte is rescued by her compassionate sister-in-law Lisa (the wonderful Ilka Chase), who introduces Charlotte to a psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (a superb Claude Rains).
Charlotte checks in at Dr. Jaquith's mountain sanitarium, then leaves for an extended cruise, now looking quite, quite different, though still inwardly vulnerable. On the cruise Charlotte meets Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid), an unhappily married man, and two troubled souls find comfort and love with one another, though Jerry realizes too late how unfair he has been to accept Charlotte's love when he cannot offer her a life together.
Charlotte returns home alone, with her own personal growth as well as memories of Jerry's love to sustain her as she attempts to balance respecting her mother with no longer being her doormat.
Ultimately, Charlotte has the chance to develop a relationship with Jerry's young daughter Tina (Janis Wilson), whose mother has never wanted her, and she as good as adopts her, finding meaning and happiness in sharing the child with Jerry.
There's good reason why this film is so well remembered, and when Davis uttered the famous final lines, "Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars," I found there were tears rolling down my cheeks -- not simply responding to the story, but to the film's artistry and what it represents from a bygone era in filmmaking.
The Oscar-nominated Davis is simply superb, believably conveying Charlotte's transformation, including the gradual emotional transitions -- even when she looks quite the glamour queen, inside she still feels like the "old" Charlotte. When one thinks of Davis, one tends to think of her as one of the great drama queens of the movies, yet the reality is that she's so effective in this because of her nuanced underplaying. At times she's quite still, effectively conveying her thoughts with a simple look. The viewer's eyes remain on her constantly both because she's so interesting and to be sure not to miss the nonverbal aspects of her performance.
Henreid takes a character who could be sleazy or unsympathetic -- the married man toying with the vulnerable woman -- and instead offers a complex depiction of a man who, like Charlotte, has been starved for love and receives it almost unbelievingly, with a desperate gratitude. The issues in his marriage are never fully explained, nor is his relationship with his unseen eldest daughter Beatrice, but the film successfully navigates that lack of back story and lets the viewer fill in the blanks.
There are so many excellent performances in this film beyond Davis and Henreid. Rains' Dr. Jasquith is simply terrific; what a great commentary on the era, that a character who mostly bookends the film could be played by such a compelling actor.
Bonita Granville plays Charlotte's casually cruel niece June; one of the film's only missteps is that it's hard to believe such an unkind, thoughtless young woman could be the daughter of Ilka Chase's warm-hearted Lisa. Eventually June realizes the error of her ways, although one hopes it's not simply because Aunt Charlotte has become a paragon of fashion.
Mary Wickes plays the nurse who might be the only person in the world not intimidated by Charlotte's mother. This film was made the same year Wickes repeated her stage role as a much more harried nurse in the film THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942).
The cast also includes Katharine Alexander (misbilled as Katherine), John Loder, Lee Patrick, James Rennie, Franklin Pangborn, and Ian Wolfe. Charlotte's early love in a flashback sequence is played by a young Charles Drake, one of a dozen films he appeared in that year.
NOW, VOYAGER was directed by Irving Rapper. It runs 117 minutes. Casey Robinson's screenplay was based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty.
NOW, VOYAGER has had numerous DVD releases, including in the Bette Davis Collection, Volume 1, the TCM Greatest Classic Legends Bette Davis Film Collection, the TCM Greatest Classic Films Romance Collection, or as a single-title release.
This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it will next air on March 3 and March 21, 2015. The trailer is on the TCM website.
Very highly recommended.