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April 05, 2008

The Bette Davis Centennial: Now, Voyager

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Irving Rapper - 1942
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Now, Voyager is one of those times I set aside my auteurist credentials. I'm pretty certain not all of it is meant to be funny yet I also can't watch it without laughing until tears well up in my eyes. Of course my first introduction to the film was actually a spoof of the famous cigarette lighting scene, a Warner Brothers cartoon of course, directed by either Tex Avery or Frank Tashlin, with the wolf lighting a dozen or so cigarettes from his mouth.

The retelling of the ugly duckling who becomes Bette Davis could never be made today. The film is two hours of platonic love, obvious rear screen projections, and lots of cigarette smoking. The film is also a love letter to Miss Davis, with two shots of the camera tilting up from her heels to her head. Davis liked whatever Irving Rapper did enough to have him direct her in a few more films, the most distinguished titles of the director's career.

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It is the romance of Now, Voyager that is the least interesting part of the film. What remains for me as the highlights are the snappy put-downs, retorts and sarcasm in Casey Robinson's script. Between Robinson, producer Hal Wallis, cinematographer Sol Polito, and composer Max Steiner, there was enough talent to stamp Now, Voyager as a Warner Brothers film that it may not have mattered much who actually was the credited director. What makes the film rewatchable are Bonita Granville as the proto-Paris Hilton, with not much better to do than determine who's the hottie and who's the nottie, Ilka Chase as the sympathetic sister-in-law, and Mary Wilkes as the sassy nurse. Even though there is talk about marriage and children, the men, even Claude Raines, seem extraneous to most of the proceedings. The other downside of multiple viewings, especially on a larger screen, is the questions that come to mind, like why does one of the portraits in the Vale mansion look like it's of Elvis, and why do the pages from the diary of Charlotte Vale all appear as from a published book and not hand-written?

One of the benefits of DVDs is watching an English language movie with subtitles. I wanted to make sure I understood that last line of the film. Was it poetic speech or awkward grammar? This is it, as spoken by Davis to Paul Henreid: "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." I'm not sure if I even want to know what that's suppose to mean. I'll just conclude by being man enough to say that Now, Voyager is my favorite "weepie", consistently causing me to weep with laughter.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 5, 2008 12:40 AM


Oh that's harsh! Now, Voyager is a reliable weepy, and there's little I like better than a chance to get out my lace-trimmed hankie and well up as beautiful people shot through gauze-covered lenses have vicarious sex with cancer sticks.

Posted by: Marilyn at April 8, 2008 02:25 PM

I do feel great affection for this film, with Dark Victory a close second.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at April 8, 2008 10:07 PM

I saw it recently on TCM and loved it even more. Why do I always think Henreid is Charles Boyer? Anyway, Davis is the bomb. I always thought the sex was real (at least that one time after the car crash). Davis is so wonderful; Charlotte (Camille) is the epitome of snappy, sharp, yet compassionate '40s womanhood. The sappy story about his daughter annoyed me this time, but I could overlook that as it was just the device that her (Charlotte's) womanly development hung on.

Posted by: Barbara at August 23, 2008 10:20 AM