Tuesday, November 4, 2014
(October 1942, U.S.)
Were it not for the 1971 film SUMMER OF '42, I might never have exposed myself to the Bette Davis film of NOW VOYAGER, as there is a movie house sequence where the young kids of a small coastal town are spending a night at the movies and watching NOW VOYAGER from the balcony while trying to get "frisky" with each other. Though, notice that the film was released in October of 1942. So how could the film be released for viewing during the Summer of '42?? This, my friends, is just one of the many film flubs that exist throughout cinema history.
And so, having been directed to NOW VOYAGER through the use of film within a film and constant exposure to Turner Classic Movies, I'm finally aware of not only a great black and white classic, but also one of the best screen love stories I've ever seen. It's a film of extraordinary transformation as we slowly watch a very drab, overweight, ugly duckling spinster in the form of Charlotte Vale (Davis) break through the barriers of ongoing repression at the hands of her brutally dictatorial and dominating mother whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to Charlotte's complete lack of self-respect and self-confidence. Fearing that she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister-in-law Lisa (played by Ilka Chase) introduces her to psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (played by Claude Rains), who recommends she spend time in his Vermont sanatorium in order to save her sanity. Charlotte blossoms away from her mother's daily control. The transformed woman opts to take a lengthy cruise rather than immediately return home. On board the ship, she meets a married man, Jerry Durrance (played by Paul Henreid), who is traveling with his friends. We eventually learn of Jerry's devotion to his young daughter Tina and how it keeps him from divorcing his wife, a manipulative, jealous woman who doesn't love Tina and spends her life promoting her own martyrism. And so, when you have two lonely people battling their own demons on board the same cruise liner...well, faster than you can say, "The Love Boat", the two become closer and inevitably fall in love, though they decide it would be best not to see each other again.
Arriving home to Boston, this is the moment where we, the audience, look forward to Charlotte shining in her new light and finally tell her no-good mother where she can go! Her mother, however, is still determined to once again destroy her daughter, but Charlotte is resolved to remain independent (you go, girl!). The memory of Jerry's endearing love and devotion help to give her the strength she needs to remain resolute. It pays off in part that she does (gently) tell her mother to back off and also in part that her mother finally dies of heart failure (good riddance, bitch!). Now with independence comes the inherited wealth that Charlotte likely deserves after so many years of emotional hell. Rather than live in spoiled fashion, Charlotte decides to devote herself to helping Jerry's troubled daughter Tina without her knowing of Charlotte's past relationship with her father. One cannot help but feel the genuine tenderness from watching a woman who has triumphed over her own feelings of self-worth pass along what she's achieved onto another young ugly duckling whom Charlotte can perfectly relate to.
Having previously mentioned that NOW VOYAGER is one of the best love stories I've ever seen, it's important to note that the love of Charlotte and Jerry never actually reaches it's full potential. For whatever reasons we're never meant to truly understand, the two of them do not "officially" come together in the end, though their love and devotion to each other through Charlotte's care for Tina is very clear. Cinematically, there is probably nothing more touching and intriguing than forbidden love, or in this particular case, love that cannot fully come together. Like I said, we may not clearly understand the reasons why not, but sometimes in life we may only reach out and achieve what is considered second best compared to what we'd truly like to achieve, or as Charlotte beautifully puts it to Jerry at the end of the film, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." It's also noteworthy that throughout the film Paul Henreid uses the familiarity of sharing a cigarette, with a rather famous two-cigarette scene, being used as his introduction to this lonely woman...
In fact, during a time when smoking on the movie screen was not considered risky or dangerously sending the wrong message to its younger viewers, the cigarette serves as a strong tool of true sexual seduction, though it's impossible to recognize it by today's standards. You need to go back to an era of wartime and imagine a period when film censors forbade anything directly linked to sexual activity or intention. It's all subtle but clearly powerful, nonetheless. Hell, at that time, it may have been incentive enough to take up smoking!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Charlotte Vale: "Jerry, Dr. Jaquith knows about us. When he said I could take Tina, he said you're on probation. Do you know what that means? It means that I'm on probation because of you and me. He allowed this visit as a test. If I can't stand such a test, I'll lose Tina and we'll lose each other. Jerry, please help me."
Jerry Durrance: "Shall we just have a cigarette on it?"
Jerry: "May I sometimes come here?"
Charlotte: "Whenever you like. It's your home too. There are people here who love you."
Jerry: "To look at you and Tina, and share with you peace and contentment."
Charlotte: "Of course. And just think, it won't be for this time only. That is, if you will help me keep what we have. If we both try hard to protect that little strip of territory that is ours. We can talk about your child."
Jerry: "Our child."
Charlotte: "Thank you."
Jerry: "And will you be happy, Charlotte?"
Charlotte: "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."