The Moon, the Stars and Bette Davis

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I always have difficulties to determine which film starring Bette Davis is my favourite one. But today, I think it’s Now, Voyager. Yeah, I might have given you another title in a past article, but you see, this is the type of choice that changes all the time for me. It doesn’t really do that for other actresses tho, just for Bette! Now, Voyager has all reasons to be a favourite. It’s that kind of movie that I like better on each viewing. Nothing from it bores me and I enjoy everything from it from the beginning until the end. I also believe it’s a moment of glory for the main actors: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Gladys Cooper, and Claude Rains.

I’m writing this article for the Third Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Actually, the event was taking place from April 5 to April 7, so I’m a little late. But, hey! Better late than never!

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I, of course, take the occasion to wish, once again, a happy heavenly birthday to Mrs. Davis who was born on April 5, 1908.

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Now, Voyager was directed by Irving Rapper and released in 1942. The masterpiece received two unsurprising nominations at the Oscars: Best Actresses for Bette Davis and Best Supporting Actress for Gladys Cooper. Max Steiner won a Best Music Oscar for his beautifully composed score.

A highly acclaimed movie, Now, Voyager was the biggest box office success of Bette Davis’s career (imdb)

In this film, she plays the role of Charlotte Vale. She lives in Boston with her possessive and tyrannical mother (Gladys Cooper). Do to her mother’s abuse, she has become a very insecure woman. One day, her sister-in-law, Lisa (Ilka Vale,  and her niece June (Bonita Granville) come to visit them. They are accompanied by Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), a psychiatrist because Lisa fears Charlotte might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After making acquaintance with Charlotte and came to the conclusion that she is, indeed, “a very sick woman”, the doctor decides to bring her to his sanitarium, Cascades, for a complete rest and cure. When the young woman is healed, she doesn’t feel confident enough to go home and face her mother, who was the main source of her illness. So, the doctor suggests her to go on a cruise. This is also a way for her to meet new people and gain confidence with the world surrounding her. During the trip, she meets Jeremiah “Jerry” Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henreid), a charming architect who is traveling with his friends Deb (Lee Patrick) and Frank (James Rennie) McIntyre. As they learn to know each other, they, surprise!, fell in love. Unfortunately, Jerry is already married, but Charlotte discovers from Deb that he doesn’t love his wife and that they have a daughter, Tina (Janis Wilson), who seems to be in the same situation Charlotte was a few months before.

After the dramatic goodbyes, Charlotte, a now completely transformed woman (mentally and physically) is back home in Boston. Of course, her mother doesn’t approve of her new attitude, much more confident, and her glamorous style, but Charlotte is decided not to let her walk on her feet again. She will coincidentially meet Jerry again… And, eventually, his daughter, at Cascade.

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There’s so much more to say about this film’s story, but I don’t want to reveal too much!

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The character of Charlotte Vale is one that undergoes a radical transformation and, for this, Bette Davis had to express acting versatility in a single movie and, obviously, she did it with brio. When she is the “first version” of Charlotte, the camera focuses on her hands twisting each other. We can also feel a certain incomfort in her character by the way she walks, talks and looks at the world surrounding her like a little scared animal. Then, when she is the transformed into the “cured” Charlotte, we still can feel a certain incertitude in her, but this one is well-balanced with an indiscutable elegance. And the more the story goes, the more we see Charlotte gaining confidence in herself and look like a happy person who can now take care of other like it was done for her.

1942 obviously was a very important year for Austrian-born actor Paul Henreid as he also starred in the ultimate classic that Casablanca is. In Now, Voyager, he embodies a devastating charm as well as a beautiful wisdom. And how can we forget the cigarettes trick! Lightning two cigarettes at the same time became his character’s signature. One of the things I like the most about the film is the brilliant chemistry he has on-screen with his co-actress Bette Davis. I love the scenes involving the two because it’s so believable. Nothing seems forced and the complicity between the two stars is honest. Paul Henreid who also worked as a director would direct his friend Bette Davis 22 years later in the thriller Dead Ringer (which I still have to see). I think Now, Voyager would be my favourite performance of him…as a good man! As a villain, it would be Night Train to Munich!

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And Claude Rains also was part of Casablanca‘s distribution! It’s weird but I also think Ingrid Bergman could have rocked the role of Charlotte Vale! But well, let’s not make a casting copy of Casablanca either. I have to admit, Now, Voyager is the film that really made me “notice” and love Claude Rains. First, I love the character he plays, a good and wise man with a sense of humour. And I love how natural his acting is. Of course, what made Claude Rains’s charm was his beautiful smooth British voice. According to IMDB, he initially didn’t want to play the role but I’m glad he did. I wonder who could have been as good as him in the role…

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And Gladys Cooper. The wonderful Gladys Cooper! Respect. Not towards her character, but towards her acting. She would also play the tyrannical mother in Separate Tables and, each time, she does it with so much wit and gives to her characters a fascinating cruelty.

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The supporting cast is fine as well. Honourable mention to Mary Wickes who plays nurse Dora, one of the most lively characters of the lot. I love it when she calls Mrs. Vale “Queen Elizabeth”, full of mockery!

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Now, Voyager is a film full of good life lessons. I love the way Bette Davis’s character understands the meaning of “don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you”. Instead of developing herself into a pale copy of her mother, Charlotte becomes a good person and eventually comes in help to Jerry’s daughter. There’s also a mirror effect if we compare her situation to Christina’s one. We never see Christina’s mother, but we heard about her and believe she’s not entirely fond of her daughter. Some of my favourite scenes of the film also are the ones where Charlotte and Christina go camping! That makes me think, I haven’t been in a while (camping)!

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We also have to praise the beautiful costumes designed by Orry-Kelly, especially Mrs. Davis ones. Ok, here I’m not talking about the old maid dress she’s wearing at the beginning of the film, but about her classy gowns that she wears after her journey at Cascades. These showcase her special beauty and her figure and add a lot to her impressive transformation. This moment when she arrives on the boat with her new look is just iconic for me. The hat and the veils she wears on her head doesn’t reveal her face totally. It’s just a few moments later when she takes off that we can really see it completely. I love the mystery this hat creates!

Discussing Now, Voyager truly was a stimulating activity. If you haven’t seen this film yet and are in the mood for a fascinating story, I urge you to watch it as soon as possible! Hopefully, it’s magic will have an effect on you as much as it did on me.

Many thanks to Crystal for hosting this blogathon. I’ll invite you to read the other entries here.

See you!

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6 thoughts on “The Moon, the Stars and Bette Davis

  1. I also struggle to choose a favorite Bette film, but Now, Voyager definitely ranks highly for me. Paul Henreid is such an underrated actor, and their chemistry is so wonderful. Even more than that, I just love the character of Charlotte, the person she becomes and the journey she takes. One of Bette’s best, definitely!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale in Now Voyager is remembered as one of her greatest roles and deservedly so. I have often seen Now Voyager described as a ‘women’s picture’ or ‘tearjerker’ but I think that under-rates it as there is so much more going on. Fantastic performance all round lift it to a higher level as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Virginie, for a thorough and thoughtful blog about one of my favorite films! I agree with you that Miss Davis’ transformation–both mental and physical–is the crown jewel of this highly entertaining film and of Bette’s multi-layered performance. Like you, I can hardly wait for the “big reveal” no matter how many times I see this one. BTW, Miss Davis fought to keep Paul Henreid on this picture. Initially, his accent was so thick, he virtually couldn’t be understood, but Bette worked with him until he could speak more clearly. Thanks again for a fun blog! Max McManus -Queen of the Lot Blog

    Liked by 1 person

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