“I’m the maiden aunt; every family has one.”
The dowdy daughter (Bette Davis) of a domineering matriarch (Gladys Cooper) is encouraged by a friendly psychiatrist (Claude Rains) to take a trip abroad, where she transforms into a sleek and elegant young woman, and soon falls in love with a troubled married man (Paul Henreid) whose daughter (Janis Wilson) is just as insecure as Davis herself once was.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of this “shrewdly” scripted adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty‘s novel by labeling it “a ridiculous soap opera that is great fun”. He refers to it as “both one of cinema’s great romances and one of the most manipulative tearjerkers about female sacrifice”, noting that it’s “full of dramatic love scenes, verbal battles, humor, tears, and, best of all, mature dialogue between Davis and men.” He calls out in particular the film’s infamous “final scene” between Davis and Henreid, featuring “Davis acting both noble and sacrificial; Max Steiner’s swelling music coaxing tears to our eyes; Henreid, for the umpteenth time, lighting two cigarettes simultaneously and handing one to Davis (their inhaling and smoky exhaling is the equivalent of sexual intercourse); and Davis delivering that beautiful last line: ‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon when we have the stars’.”
The storyline for Now, Voyager is contrived beyond belief, but enjoyably so — if you’re willing to go along for the ride. A classic “women’s picture” (DVD Savant refers to it as “the perfect distillation of narrative themes and romantic elements to attract the female audience in 1942”), Now, Voyager chronicles Davis’s magical transformation from a beetle-browed, plump spinster on the verge of a nervous breakdown, to the most popular guest on board a cruise ship — a woman unafraid to finally emerge from under the crippling dominance of her abusive mother and spread her wings, exactly how she chooses. Davis, naturally, is superb in this tricky central role, while Claude Rains is top-notch in a too-small (but critical) role as her kindly psychiatrist (if only we all had such a guardian angel/father-figure waiting for us in the wings!). Henreid, despite Davis’s apparent initial misgivings, is finely cast as her illicit European “lover”, and Gladys Cooper is appropriately hiss-worthy as her villainous mother (as noted by DVD Savant, “Not until Psycho did the movies come up with as potent a horror-mother as old Mrs. Vale”).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Paul Henreid as Jerry
- Claude Rains as Dr. Jaquith
- Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Vale
- Atmospheric cinematography
Yes, as a classic “women’s picture”.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)