Now, Voyager

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Now, Voyager, 1942, Columbia Pictures. Starting Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid, Claude Rains. Directed by Irving Rapper. B&W, 117 minutes.

The story of a plain and painfully shy young woman, held tightly under the grip of her abusive mother, Now, Voyager is a melodrama elevated to an unexpected level of quality by fine performances and a somewhat unpredictable plot. Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) was a late-in-life child for her sharp-tongued mother (Gladys Cooper), and the overbearing woman has never let her forget what a burden that has been.

With the help of kind relatives, Charlotte is sent to a sanatarium (today known as a mental health facility), where, under the patient and loving care of Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), she evolves into a more confident young lady with style and panache.

The stay at the sanatarium isn’t all that helps cure her, however. She leaves the facility and goes on a cruise to South America, where she meets the dashing Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance (Paul Heinreid), a married man whose charm and attention bring her more fully into her own.

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Claude Rains, Bette Davis

But the trip ends, and Charlotte returns home. From there the story has both its predictable and surprising moments, with an ending only a melodrama of that era could pull off.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actress for Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Cooper, and Best Music, Scoring for Max Steiner. It won the music award, as well it should have. Reviews were mixed, in fact, they tended to be more critical than praising, but the movie did well, particularly with women, its intended audience. Melodramas (“weepies”) were popular with the female crowd at the time, and this one was better than most.

Producer Hal B. Wallis originally envisioned Irene Dunne in the lead, but when Davis heard about the film she vigourously campaigned for the part. She was under contract to Warner Bros., she argued, while it would cost the studio to borrow Dunne from Columbia. Also, as a native New Englander, she could understand Charlotte Vale and her lifestyle.

During production, Davis gained a reputation for fighting her own and her cast members’ battles with director Irving Rapper, who was said to go home every evening exhausted from the day’s work with his strong-willed star. Heinreid later said he appreciated her intervention on his behalf, including campaigning for a second screen test when his appearance on the first was “wrong in every way.”

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Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid

Many women wrote to the studio saying they saw themselves in the homely Charlotte, and believed if that transformation could be made for her, it could for them, as well. As Davis was not a classic beauty, this was yet another reason choosing her for the part was wise. It did, indeed, show the power of confidence, self-worth, and some savvy style decisions.

Now, Voyager has staying power because of its solid performances and very human storytelling, as well as the sharp cinematography and feminist perspective. For Bette Davis fans it is a must-see, and should be on the list of movies to watch for all classic film fans.

 

 

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Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes in Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Here Comes Mr. Jordan, 1941, Columbia Pictures. Starring Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes. Directed by Alexander Hall. B&W, 93 minutes.

Death has come about 50 years too soon for boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) when well-meaning but novice Angel 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) takes his soul, believing there’s no way he could have survived an imminent plane crash. Pendleton’s untimely arrival in heaven is confirmed to be a mistake by Angel 7013’s superior, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), but by the time they arrive on earth to place Joe back in his body, his trainer and closest friend, Max Corkle (James Gleason) has had him cremated.

Thus begins the search for the perfect new body, one that is “in the pink.” Despite his reservations, Joe ends up being placed in the less-than-trim physique of an unscrupulous millionaire, Bruce Farnsworth, who has just been murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and personal assistant (John Emery). Farnsworth, it turns out, has cheated thousands out of their hard-earned money, and Joe sets out to right the situation.

He’s motivated in part to do so by the presence of Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), whose father has paid a high price for Farnsworth’s deceit. Joe, in the guise of Bruce Farnsworth*, and Bette begin to fall for each other, but Bette doesn’t know the truth about his identity.

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Edward Everett Horton, Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains

Destiny has its place, we learn, and Joe was destined for…certain outcomes. This is an original and fresh plot line, even after so many remakes (including the fine film Heaven Can Wait [1978], starring Warren Beatty). The story is further enhanced by the top-notch performances of this cast,  in particular Montgomery, who, as Joe Pendleton, retains a justifiable, but not annoying, anger and bewilderment at the unfairness of the entire situation.

Initially,  Montgomery was unhappy about being loaned out from MGM to Columbia, as the latter studio was known as “poverty row” amongst actors. The studio’s first choice for the role was Cary Grant, but Montgomery’s pugnacious performance was quite possibly better suited to the character. (This was not the only role in which Montgomery was second choice to Grant. That same year, Montgomery was given the lead in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring with Carole Lombard.)

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Robert Montgomery, James Gleason, Claude Rains

The film won the Academy Awards for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture; Best Actor in a Leading Role (Montgomery); Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gleason); and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.

Claude Rains and James Gleason are in top form, indeed, the entire supporting cast is superb. This is a film that could have been a colossal flop without its witty script, sharp comic pace and quality performances. Instead it is a true classic and a great choice for the whole family.

 

*Viewers see Joe Pendleton; characters in the film see Bruce Farnsworth.