This is the movie that sparked my interest in classic cinema.
I’d never much cared for black and white movies as a child. I did watch several of the Abbott and Costello movies, King Kong (1933) and a few others. But the idea of watching black and white in an age of color was not an appealing one. Little did I know what I was missing.
In college, I took a literature course exploring semantics in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. This great novel was actually our course textbook! Our professor heard a lecturer was coming to campus to talk about the subject of our course and that we should all see Now, Voyager (which was shown on campus) as it would be referenced in the woman’s lecture. Turns out the lecturer barely talked about the movie for more than a paragraph of her very long and dry speech.
Seeing the movie, however, opened up a love of classic cinema for me. Subsequently, I took a college course which looked at the film noir genre. Watching these gritty detective thrillers only cemented my new found love of classic cinema from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, which continues to this day.
In Now, Voyager, Bette Davis stars as repressed spinster Charlotte Vale whose domineering mother has deprived her of a life of her own. Through sessions with a psychiatrist (portrayed by Claude Rains), Charlotte slowly grows out of her shell and out from her mother’s hold over her. The melodrama unfolds in almost chapter-like sequences showing Charlotte’s metamorphosis from dowdy spinster to self-confident woman. While on a cruise, she meets and falls in love with a married man. Though this relatively innocent fling does not last, it fuels Charlotte’s determination to remain independent from her mother.
At the time, the movie was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Charlotte’s initial circumstances and later transformation were all new elements of storytelling for me. Even the movie’s ending was a surprise and certainly not what I expected. The story, though set in the 1940s, seemed just as relevent to audiences in the 1990s when I first saw. I know I wasn’t the only one in my lit course who liked it!
Last year, I watched the movie for the third time. Approximately 117 minutes, Now, Voyager can be an enjoyable way to pass a snowbound evening or weekend afternoon. Other movies I’ve enjoyed, starring Bette Davis, include The Petrified Forest (1936), Jezebel (1938), The Letter (1940), All About Eve (1950), and yes, the 1978 Agatha Christie adaptation of Death on the Nile.
Now, Voyager (1942) is based on a 1941 novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. The title comes from a line in Walt Whitman’s Poem “The Untold Want.” While the book may be hard to come by these days, the movie most definitely is not. Check it out on DVD at your local library.