Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Now. Voyager (1942)

Director: Irving Rapper


In watching the career of Bette Davis it becomes increasingly clear that in her we find an actress that is not afraid of risks, especially playing the role of a woman that is not always prettied and dolled up for every scene. It is here in Now, Voyager that we also begin to see how the star actress begins to take significant control of her career and the motion pictures she is in. This feature about emotional traumatized woman would be one of Davis’ better known performances and turning point in the career actress that would help creatively drive nearly all the pictures she was in in the future.

Now, Voyager is a drama of an emotionally repressed spinster who sensitively flourishes with the aid of therapy, and in an unexpected romance. The emotionally unstable Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), long repressed as the unwanted daughter of her wealthy, elderly mother (Gladys Cooper) begins to blossom as a stronger woman with the aid of psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). Charlotte finds romance with Jeremiah Durrance (Paul Henreid) a married man who is suppressed from life’s joys by a manipulative wife who he will not divorce, due to the love for his daughter. Through his daughter, Tina (Janice Wilson), who like Charlotte is unwanted by her mother, the two root a new bond in their relationship as Charlotte helps Tina who suffers from similar issues she had and is still working through.
The film makes for a complicated story that could ultimately leave some viewers feeling very unfulfilled as neither are the issues of the main character resolved, nor does the romantic relationship never truly comes together by the end. However, Bette Davis does deliver a remarkable performance as she delves into the complicated psyche of a deeply troubled woman that pursues to come of age in her thirties. The complex romance of the Charlotte and Jeremiah is one of peculiar connection as both share equally destructive relationships from loved ones that leave them shattered inside as they lean on each other emotionally to help cope with their distresses. What we are left with is a multifaceted story that may leave the audience with a sense that they lived through a lot in this film’s journey, yet remain with still more road ahead left unfinished at the closing, with a sense of hope that it will be smoother going forward.

The production of the motion picture Now, Voyager revolved completely around its headlining star Bette Davis. Adapted from the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty, the setting of the story would be moved from the originally intended Italian setting to primarily in America, Boston to be exact. World War II would make such trans-Atlantic locations difficult to set the story in such a local that the studio found it simpler to just change the settings. The complex character of Charlotte would intrigue Davis as she lobbied for the role when the studio began the project, winning the role of Charlotte from the likes of Irene Dunne, Norma Shearer, and Ginger Rogers.

Now with Davis signed on as the star Bette would push her star power in controlling much of production, from costuming, art direction, and even to casting and the hiring of the director. Davis liked the idea of Austrian born actor Paul Henreid as her co-star, but his first screen test was received poorly. Hoping to win him the role she promptly insisted on a second screen test for Henreid in which his look was altered from a slick European to a humbler man landed him the job. Claude Rains was a good friend of Davis, and in her words was her favorite co-star helping him land the role of Dr. Jaquith. Davis’ power is most displayed in the hiring of the film’s director, irving Rapper, whom she had worked with as a dialogue director in past prodctions.  Her confidence in him would help set his career as a major motion picture director in the future.

Bette Davis was an actress that took chances like none seen in those days in Hollywood. Her performance as Charlotte warranted a transformation that many Hollywood studio actresses would have stayed clear of. Her character was to begin as unattractive and homely, which movies usually masked with women simply having poorer posture, plane clothing, and simple glasses. Davis, however, transformed herself with make-up that made her appear less attractive, widening her eyebrows and even padding her costumes to make herself appear fatter. Already a dynamic actress, her performance as an emotionally unbalanced lady added to the troubled woman she was portraying. Davis was known for taking these types of creative chances, and it would gain her much notoriety through the years.

Critics and audiences found the Now, Voyager long and a bit fruitless for the reason of the ending not resolving the issues of the story. However, critics praised Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper’s performances in their complicated mother-daughter relationship. Each would be nominated Academy Awards for their performances along with the stirring score by celebrated composer Max Steiner
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 Audiences found the romance between Charlotte and Jerimiah to be captivating, best remembered by Jeremiah’s lighting of two cigarettes in his lips and handing one to Charlotte while intently gazing at her. It was moments shared between these two such individuals that made the feature #23 on AFI’s list for top love stories in American cinema in 2002, as well as allowing the picture to being named to the National Film Registry in 2007.

Now, Voyager remains one of Bette Davis’ finest performances and a well-known credit in her catalog of feature films. Contemporary audiences can relate to its emotional story of a troubled woman as this picture continues to be a strong 1940s woman’s picture. On the other hand, many may find this feature long, dreary, drawn out, and unfulfilling, but it does not dampen the outstanding performance of the film’s dramatic star.

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