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Criterion Collection: Now, Voyager

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Criterion Collection: Now, Voyager (1942) | Blu-ray Review

Criterion Collection: Now, Voyager (1942) | Blu-ray Review

It ends with one of cinema’s most quotable lines of dialogue, as a chain-smoking Bette Davis slyly slows a Paul Henreid in his lukewarm wish to pursue a tenuous romance with her Charlotte Vale exclaiming, “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” The film, is of course, Now, Voyager (1942), borrowing its title from the Walt Whitman poem “The Untold Want” and adapted from a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty (Stella Dallas, adapted three separate times). It is, perhaps, the most quintessential of Bette Davis’ women’s pictures of her studio era days. If Joan Crawford was the star of melodramas as the woman from the wrong side of the tracks, Davis’ early days as leading lady tended towards women who transformed from ugly ducklings to elegant, ‘party favor’ swans (that is before 1950’s All About Eve would resurrect and revamp her screen image forever, equaled perhaps only by her reinvention as a horror hag in the equally iconic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? over a decade later in 1962).

The first of four titles in which Irving Rapper would direct Davis (the others being The Corn is Green, Deception and Another Man’s Poison), the actor scored her seventh of eleven Oscar nominations, and the director reunited her with her two leads, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid in 1946’s noir melodrama Deception. Here, Davis plays the final ‘surprise’ child of the puritanical Boston socialite Mrs. Henry Vale (the silent star Gladys Cooper, who would be awarded her first of three Academy Award nominations for this film in the latter half of her screen career).

Held captive by her domineering mother, Davis’ Charlotte is a mousy hausfrau (looking eerily similar to Saffy from the UK’s “Absolutely Fabulous” series) suffering from bouts of hysteria. When her sister-in-law brings the friendly Dr. Jacquith (Claude Rains) over for an in-house interview, he deduces Charlotte’s condition requires a stay in a sanatorium, wherein she blossoms ‘neath his tutelage. Urging her to embark on a South American cruise, she is taken by the dashing but unhappily married Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid). After disembarking, Charlotte finds herself a changed woman, resisting the urge to fall into her prescribed role upon returning home. Rebuked by her mother, Charlotte becomes engaged to a potentially sociable match, but this falls apart when she is later reintroduced to Jerry, with circumstance allowing her to become a mentor to his youngest daughter, an unwanted child who, like herself once, suffers from crippling self-image issues.

Composer Max Steiner won an Academy Award for his work here (in a score Davis disliked because she felt it encroached upon her performance). Tender, poignant and lusciously calibrated by Rapper, Now, Voyager is one of the few romantic melodramas which manages a timelessness due to its almost accidental universality, wherein a privileged white woman who finds her voice simultaneously embraces her worth, allowing herself the freedom to enjoy her present and fantasize about the possibilities of her future.

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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