I love Cinderella stories, I enjoy watching old movies, and I’m a fan of Bette Davis. It follows, therefore, that I have watched Now, Voyager more than once and will probably watch it again.
Poor Charlotte Vale, (Cinderella), the child of a domineering, hateful mother (mean stepsister) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown when her sister-in-law brings Dr. Jaquith, a psychiatrist (fairy godmother) by the house to secretly evaluate her. Charlotte is squirrled off to Dr. Jacquith‘s rest home where under his ministrations she is transformed. And what a transformation it is! When weeks later we first see her—gone are the sensible shoes, the dowdy dress, the apologetic posture, the glasses, the severe unstylish hairdo, and the shaggy eyebrows. Well actually the eyebrows are pretty much gone altogether, having been replaced by a thin line drawn with an eyebrow pencil—the idea of glamor in the 40’s— as was the movie mouth, which I tried in my youth to replicate—unsuccessfully as it turned out, since I didn’t know about lip liner.
To mark her newly found independence, Charlotte goes on a cruise where she meets Jerry Durrance (prince charming) who is unhappily married, traveling alone on business, and has an emotionally damaged child who is unloved and unwanted by her mother. You guessed it—Jerry and Charlotte fall in love. Now even though Charlotte has been transformed, she is not quite yet cured, but the love of Jerry and the relationship she later develops with Jerry’s child, Tina, brings her completely around.
However, Jerry and Charlotte are not exactly going to live happily ever after because there is the impediment of the wife, to whom Jerry is honor bound. (A quaint idea to be sure). But Jerry and Charlotte are now inextricably bound by their shared love of Tina. The famous last line comes after Jerry asks if she can be happy with such an arrangement: “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.”
It’s a far-fetched story, hopelessly romantic with a terrific score and of course the incomparable Bette Davis. Modern audiences no doubt find the outmoded sensibilities amusing, and the lack of overt sex odd. There are lots and lots of loving words, however, and interesting dialogue.
And there is one more thing that dates the film and makes it a subject of study of times past. Now, Voyager is “the cigarette movie.” Everybody smoked back in the day, because they didn’t know any better—and never has the cigarette been utilized more effectively than in this movie. In this last scene, Pau Henreid, who plays Jerry, does something that is the quintessence of cool. He puts two cigarettes in his mouth at once, lights them both, and hands one to Davis. They say it was he who originated this custom, and although this movie precedes my smoking days by some years, I definitely remember young men doing this. In fact, I believe Herb did it for me. Certainly Herb was very cool.
I’m sure Cinderella stories will be around as long as people tell stories. The cigarette trick on the other hand . . . .
Here’s how it was done: