When we first meet her, Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is a shy spinster, living in her family’s stately Boston mansion under the tyrannical thumb of her elderly mother (Gladys Cooper). Charlotte was a late child whom her mother admits was the unwanted child; the ugly duckling who exists only to serve her mother’s every whim. Her own desires, we’re never given a thought. Sympathetic psychologist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) effects a decidedly simplistic cure, the ability to simply be herself. Dr. Jaquith suggests Charlotte spend some time at his Vermont sanitarium.
Separated from her mother, Charlotte thrives into a mature, confident woman. The doctor encourages her to take a cruise to South America to explore her newfound personality. Aboard ship, she meets Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) and the two fall in love. But Jerry is trapped in loveless marriage. The two part after five days together, but Charlotte struggles to forget Jerry. An argument results in her mother’s heart attack and death.
Racked with guilt, Charlotte returns to the sanitarium. There she meets Jerry’s very lonely, unhappy daughter Tina (Janis Wilson, uncredited). The 12- year old reminds Charlotte of herself and she immediately takes her under her wing. It’s through Charlotte’s lovely relationship with Tina that Jerry and Charlotte find a way to spend time together that is acceptable in polite society.
While the premise sounds simple, many elements are rather progressive for 1942. At the beginning Charlotte is nervous and rigid, on the edge of a nervous breakdown–by the end she’s collected and gentle. Adapted for the screen by Casey Robinson from the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, the treatment of mental health and psychiatry and the film’s portrayal of it it is both radical and touching. At a time when women who sought psychiatric care were simply ignored or locked away and whispered about, Now, Voyager understands that Charlotte’s duress could have been caused by her mother’s mental abuse; furthermore, with the proper help, it’s possible for Charlotte to overcome that trauma and live a happy, fruitful life.
Considered by some to be her greatest performance, Bette Davis shows a quiet versatility that still shines almost eighty years after the films original theatrical release. Watching her transformation from scared and insecure child-women to confident, sophisticated adult is a masterclass in acting. Paul Henreid is suave and loving as Jerry Durrance and the the chemistry between Davis and Henreid is palpable. Not to be overlooked is Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of Mrs. Vale. Cold and unfeeling, she is perhaps one of the big screen’s first examples of parental psychological and emotional abuse.
Bette Davis received a Best Actress Oscar Nomination, but was beat out by Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver. Gladys Cooper received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nomination, but was beat out by Theresa Wright for Mrs. Miniver. Now Voyager did turn up a winner when Max Steiner took home an Oscar for his score.
In 2007, Now, Voyager was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally significant.”
Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s new 4K restoration looks terrific. The smallest details shine — wrinkles in closeups of Mrs. Vale’s face and the flowered pattern in Charlotte’s dress. The range of grays is well differentiated, with blacks deep and inky. This is by far, the best Now, Voyager has ever looked on home media.
The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 35mm nitrate fine grain. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Even in the most emotional scenes, Ms. Davis is easy to understand. Max Steiner’s score is nicely interwoven throughout the film, contributing appropriately to the mood and atmosphere.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1971 featuring Bette Davis (HD, 53:35) The actress was almost always a great interview and here is no exception. Here, solo with Cavett, she discusses her life and career and gives her opinion on a myriad of topics. This one is worth more than one viewing for Bette Davis fans.
- Paul Henreid Interview From 1980 (HD, 4:05) In this short interview, the actor/director shares some memories of filming Now, Voyager and I wish it were longer.
- Farran Smith Nehme on the Making of the Film (HD, 31:19) The film critic discusses how the film developed and its subsequent box office success. Several clips from the film are shown and Nehme also provides a brief biography of Bette Davis.
- Larry McQueen Interview (HD, 10:56) The costume Historian discusses the importance of Orry-Kelly’s costumes in helping Bette Davis establish her character amid dramatic personality changes.
- Jeff Smith Select Audio Commentary (26:56) The following music selections and their functions are discussed: Opening Credits, Charlotte’s Theme, Jaquith’s Theme, The Love Theme, Charlotte’s Return, and Tina’s Theme.
- Lux Radio Theatre (45:42, 49:23) Two different radio adaptations of the story: The 1943 version starring Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid and the 1946 version with Bette Davis and Gregory Peck.
- Booklet: A 32-page illustrated booklet includes an essay, “We Have the Stars,” by scholar Patricia White and a 1937 essay by Bette Davis, “The Actress Plays Her Part.”
Now, Voyager (1942)
Movie title: Now, Voyager
Duration: 118 min.
Director(s): Irving Rapper
Actor(s): Bette Davis, Paul Henreid , Claude Rains , Gladys Cooper, Ilka Chase, Bonita Granville
Genre: Romance, Drama