I wasn’t going to watch Now, Voyager last night: geez, no. I’d just seen it about three weeks ago on Turner Classics, my fallback system when reality TV turns unbearably sour. But it’s one of those films, like Taxi Driver, that’s a virtual La Brea Tar Pit of absorption. Once the thing starts, you can’t get away even if you want to.
As with Gone With the Wind, you can dip in anywhere and enter the flow, but it’s better to plunge in right at the beginning, when the lush Max Steiner score swells with erotic longing. Gather ‘round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale, of a poor little rich girl named Charlotte Vale.
This is 1942, so how can thick-browed, tremulous Bette escape such hell? Enter the male rescue figure, in the person of Dr. Jaquith, a psychiatrist played to perfection by one of the great character actors of all time, Claude Rains. If Claude Rains were MY psychiatrist, I might just be able to finally get off the couch. This man who oozes erudite understanding runs a sanatorium that resembles a cross between a holiday resort and a self-help ranch retreat, with smiling staff and cozy rooms with fireplaces (in fact, when Charlotte bolts back to the place after a romantic reversal, the smiling nurse/receptionist/whatever-she-is cheerfully says, “I’ve put you back in your old room,” like it’s a luxury hotel or a college dorm.)
Something happens at this dorm, some sort of transformation, so that when
is given the chance to assume someone
else’s name and wardrobe on a luxury cruise, she takes it. The shot where Dr.
Jaquith literally sends her off on the gangplank is pure Charlotte : remember, be interested in everything
and everyone! Go, girl, go! Hollywood ’s newly-plucked eyebrows and stunning
‘40s wardrobe can’t help but attract the attention of a (MARRIED, MARRIED,
MARRIED) elegant and somewhat androgynous hunk named Jerry Durrance (foreign
name, God, foreign name - excuse me while I have an orgasm). He’s played
by Paul Henreid, the murmuring, slightly bedroomy resistance worker in Charlotte , the one who gets the girl (or re-gets
the girl) in the end. Casablanca
For some reason, the fact that Jerry stays in a miserable marriage because of his disturbed daughter, Tina makes him into some sort of a hero. In truth, he’s a wuss, a cad, an emotional gigolo, and the sort of man who wants a fuck in every port. But his dashing habit of lighting two cigarettes at a time and giving one to
(implying, in subtle Charlotte Hollywood code, that they’d slept together) seems
to forgive all his little flaws.
The capper in this splendid weepie is
’ classic line, “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s
ask for the moon. We have the stars.” Every sploppy, soaky, drippy line in this
thing is totally transformed by Bette Davis’ sheer genius: her smoky
inflections, toned-down intelligence, the shy and slightly birdlike way she
turns her head. Her hair, once straggly and ugly, is smoothed around her head
like a shining helmet, and for some reason the
Carol-Burnett-playing-Scarlett-O’Hara linebacker shoulders don’t look
ridiculous on her. Davis
I keep reading Bette Davis bios, and all of them seem to conclude that she was crazy, that she had some sort of fatal personality disorder that allowed her to tap into the darkness of the human psyche. Right. Then how did she last ‘til age 80, ravaged by cancer but still working right to the end? Granted, she married four unsuitable men, but is that so unusual in
? (Didn’t Mickey Rooney have seven –
wives, I mean?). These biographers also conclude, all of them, that her
emotionally fragile sister Bobby was mentally ill because she wasn’t
able to have a career like her sister’s. Had she been able to, she would have
been stable, joyful, happy in her personal life, and multiply orgasmic. Hollywood
What a strange brew is old
. We couldn’t have a Now, Voyager now: it just
wouldn’t play. It’s a pretty strange transformation, for one thing: from dowdy
spinster with bad hair to elegant spinster with a better wardrobe and a million
emotional frustrations. She still doesn’t get to marry or have children, as she
longs to. She gets the old lady’s house, but that’s just because the old bird
died at the right time. But ah! She has the stars. And thus she sails forth, to seek
and find. Find what? A life forever on the emotional hook, with happiness just
beyond the tips of her fingers. Hollywood
NOW I get it, why I'm always watching this shit.