NOW, VOYAGER (1942). Director: Irving Rapper.
“No member of the Vale family has ever had a nervous breakdown.”
If you take the time to analyze this classic soap opera, you might find yourself wondering why you enjoyed it so much, as it is certainly full of moments both contrived and overly convenient, yet it works from start to finish on an emotional level, in no large part (although not exclusively) due to Max Steiner's memorable, intensely romantic musical score [which he recycled for at least one later movie]. Bette Davis gives one of her best performances – she is not as affected and mannered as she is in The Little Foxes, for instance -- as Charlotte Vale, who is dominated by a mother (Gladys Cooper) almost as bad as the old lady in Night Must Fall. Getting psychological treatment (it's never really specified what this consists of, although weaving is one of the components), and a major make over (it's also never specified who does this for her), her doctor (Claude Rains) suggests she open herself to life by taking an ocean cruise. There she meets a man (Paul Henreid) – unfortunately married -- who helps bring her out of her shell and feel attractive for what she suggests is the first time in her life (she obviously has forgotten her own flashback in which she relates her romance with a handsome wireless operator [Charles Drake] on a ship when she was twenty). Even though Henreid's wife sounds like a neurotic monster who is jealous and unloving of her own daughter, it never occurs to the man that a divorce might be in the offing. Certainly his daughter wouldn't be adversely affected by this, as she winds up meeting and loving Charlotte when she goes for a spell to – would you believe it -- the very same sanitarium where Charlotte got her “cure” (Charlotte has returned there after the emotional turmoil of her mother's death, which she unfairly blames on herself). Recognizing Henreid's child, another “ugly duckling,” Charlotte takes the girl under her wing and helps her, too, to blossom. In the famous ending -- “let's not ask for the moon, we have the stars” Charlotte tells Henreid – you get the impression that it won't be long until this supposedly wonderful man realizes which woman he should be spending his life with. This may not be a “serious,” profound drama, but the darn thing is nevertheless poignant and affecting because it deals in its own way with such compelling themes as loneliness; fitting in; the traps in choosing the right path in life and love; being cut off from the one person you need the most etc. It also has always struck a chord in the audience because of its intelligent exploitation of the ugly duckling/Cinderella aspect of the storyline: the hopeless geek makes good. Despite its many dumb moments, the well-acted and handsomely produced Now, Voyager is a cut above most of the other “Oh, how the rich suffer!” movies of the thirties and forties. Although it never could be said that Bette Davis was a genuinely beautiful woman, in some shots of this film she is genuinely stunning.
Verdict: Great Old Soap Opera. ***.